Preview: Unisex

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When asked about the inspiration for Unisex, Director Tess Humphrey told Vision: “I came up with Unisex because I was having a lot of whispered conversations with friends who needed advice or a sympathetic ear about sex, but felt like they couldn’t talk to anyone because they were worried about gossip and being judged. It seemed bizarre that something as universal and interesting as sex was something so many people felt like they couldn’t talk about.”
The upcoming production is scripted entirely of sexual experiences, opinions and anecdotes submitted by anonymous authors: “We’ve got everything from a guy dancing naked to Baby Got Back, to a girl being raped when she was 6”.
So, walking into one of the rehearsals for the show was understandably daunting, and you can definitely expect some uncomfortable moments in the play itself – these courageous and self-proclaimed “completely unabashed” actors will not be holding back. I was particularly concerned, after very specific mentioning of a diamanté whip, golden syrup and 5 metres of black nylon rope (incidentally, they don’t appear to all feature in the same scene), that the show is highly liable to opening itself up to criticism of it as sleaze.
It really isn’t. What immediately struck me was the abundance of kindness, empathy and tact with which these issues are being treated – particularly those hardest to discuss: “We’ve had a lot of submissions about rape. I expected this, but I wasn’t prepared for them to make up about a third of entries, and for all of them to be so harrowingly similar. We had to choreograph how to tell them very carefully, because I felt like we had to tell everyone’s story, but in a way that made them all powerful – I like what we’ve done, I hope the authors think we do them justice.”
Ultimately, Tess and her cast have been provided the script and are pretty rigidly sticking to it – using almost every submission received and keeping as close to the original words as possible. This presented some very interesting challenges in rehearsal, prompting discussion between actors to establish empathy with these anonymous characters. They have nothing to go on in each instance but the recollection of a singular, isolated sexual experience – a large (yet not really at all surprising) proportion of which involve Willow.
Unisex promises to capture a whole spectrum of emotions pertaining to sex and relationships, to fearlessly confront you with them and leave you reeling. This show deals with the anxiety, shame, pleasure and excitement of sex – our apparent fascination with and desperation for it.
You should buy a ticket: “Because, the cast are fantastic, they are unbelievably talented and lovely to work with; we work hard to make everyone’s stories as empathetic and natural as we can. Unisex is a unique opportunity to see things people want to share, and the ability for strangers’ experiences to strike a chord in you is quite shocking. I think people will come away feeling shocked and uplifted, and I hope that for everyone who was kind enough to send us material, they feel validated by how we use it.”
Unisex will be playing at Dixon Theatre, Wentworth on Tuesday and Wednesday Week 10, 7.30pm. Tickets are £5, available at Vanbrugh stalls and on the door.