Review: 44 Sex Acts in One Week, York Theatre, Seymour Centre, as part of the Sydney Festival – Wednesday, 12 January, 2022. Reviewed by editor-at-large Gary Nunn.
Every bit the wild ride suggested by its title (buckle up!) this show – told in one act, no interval – does something rather marvelous.
It avoids nudity and somehow skirts the gratuitously crass to instead focus on the preposterous and silly nature of sex, by presenting its quirks in an eccentric manner.
It’s still bawdy – of course it is – but, as a result of playwright David Finnigan’s writing style, idiosyncratically so. And it transpires to be more about the wellness industry than sex.
But first, the sex. Yep, there’s lots of it. That’s because aspiring writer Celina has agreed to a commission from the clickbait blog agency she’s filing for: SheSquad.
It’s something she herself pitches: a new book by a sex guru, Malaine Gutierrez, has been released: The 44 Sex Acts That Will Change Your Life. Celina, desperate for money to pay her debts and her rent, offers to try all 44 in a week in response to her editor, Irene’s, request for a review of the book.
To complete the extraordinary act of gonzo journalism, Celina – in short supply of potential sexual adventurors – very begrudgingly enlists the blogging agency’s charmless office support nerd, Alab. He’s a wannabe ecological hero, and part of the pact entails his pet frogs being allowed to reside in Celina’s squalid, mosquito-ridden basement.
Together, this act of mutually agreed prostitution will enable the pair to save or shock the world: Alab with his eco-warrior endeavours; Celina in the publication of her more august writing than that demanded of her by the SheQuad editor, Irene. Watching Rebecca Massey play this role is highly amusing for a journalist: the amount of outrageous, ethically questionable stories she’ll commission her bloggers to write for the clicks sits uncomfortably close to home, as all satire should.
Massey also plays enthusiastic real estate agent turned sex coach Malaine Gutierrez with a gusto the summons every “wellness guru” or “motivational speaker” you’ve ever cringed at. Her bold yet self-conscious, awkward yet brazen motivational monologues on sex are told with a splendidly supercilious panache.
As their reluctant sex acts progress in wildness and ridiculousness, Alab (portrayed by an extremely watchable Matt Hardie) and Celina (played with understated, deadpan flair by Emma Harvie) grow closer than expected. Disgust is so close to passion, it transpires. It’s puerile, it’s predictable, but it’s actually endearing. Especially when you learn they’re a real-life couple.
The real triumph of the play is its sound effect techniques. It’s presented as a radio play, with the sonorous voice of Keith Robinson – an elderly, wheelchair using Alab, reflecting poignantly on this ludicrously unfeasible chapter of his life, imbuing the silly with the profound.
Every noise: whether orchestrated the plunging of a vagina, or the obnoxious shutter to get in/out of Celina’s basement dive apartment, is created by other actors on stage using something gloriously unexpected. Fruit plays a big role here. You’ll never view rockmelon in quite the same way.
44 Sex Acts in One Week plays the York Theatre, Seymour Centre until Sunday, 16 January as part of the Sydney Festival. For tickets and further details, visit www.seymourcentre.com/event/44-sex-acts-in-one-week/.
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