This week at Wentworth Dixon Theatre was the innovative production Unisex, an unabashed and frankly spoken exploration of numerous sexual encounters. It is scripted and directed by third year English student Tess Humphrey, but based entirely on real happenings submitted anonymously to her online. The production is clearly unique in its very personal genesis which proves to be the foundation for both its strongest and weakest moments.
The play takes the form of a series of monologues and dialogues recounting an eclectic mix of experiences, from discoveries of homosexuality to a dramatized pillow talk on what music to listen to whilst having sex. The production brands itself as an accessible space in which it’s okay to say anything about sex. This is only possible however, if the audience is willing to be as open about sex as the show’s characters, which is a pitfall the play unfortunately and constantly gravitates towards. Although the opening night saw a reciprocated warmth shared between spectators and cast, one suspects the accessible space could quickly became fraught given a less involved audience.
Be this as it may, the cast’s performances were funny, brave and above all, unapologetically honest. The performances by Andrew Foster deserve an honourable mention here. With an easygoing boyish charm he is effortlessly able to find and accentuate the lighter sides in his reasonably darker stories, leaving the audience guiltless to the pain and able to enjoy a more long lasting appreciation of those stories.The inevitable graphic descriptions of sexual encounters are presented with such integrity that any cringe-worthiness was easily eschewed. That is, as long as one is able to relate to the situation enough to appreciate this integrity. This is the problem the production faces: it caters for a very particular audience, almost certainly to people who have had similar experiences, if not the very people who submitted the experiences that were being dramatized. Too often there’s a hint of self-indulgence that stops an overarching sense of inclusion. Some of the experiences shared are so personal that empathy just cannot be achieved, leaving the audience with little more than a feeling of discomfort and detachment. Perhaps to be expected in a play formed from a host of different sources, it is none the less a shame to feel less inner circle than detached spectator in a spectacle built on the premise of inclusion. In this regard, the play may have benefited from some more average, catch-all stories.
Nonetheless, the play is clearly faithfully representative to those whose experiences it does explore. There are some very personal incidents that are presented with a heartfelt maturity that shows just how important the subject is to the minds behind the production. The play also excels through its comical aspects, which made it easy to relax into the subject matter and enjoy the drama unfolding. As much as the play is an exposition of the darker moments in sexual experiences, an audience will probably remain at its most receptive during the play’s touches of light relief, especially during the unforgettable, visual masterpiece of an ending.
Everyone in sex has a role to play. Mainly, Unisex caters for these various roles. Inescapably, however, some of the more conventional, less dramatisable experiences can’t be accommodated, which is where the play falls short in its overall relatability. Leaving this aside, the play is carried by some incredibly honest and heartfelt performances that answer the question that plagues this neurotic and insecure generation: Yes, it’s ok to talk about sex.