Sunday, January 24, 2016

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had by Mammalian Diving Reflex (Canada). Sydney Festival

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had by Mammalian Diving Reflex (Canada).  Sydney Festival at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, January 21-24, 2016.

Writers (in collaboration with local panel members): Konstantin Bock (Berlin) – Director and Environment Designer ; Darren O’Donnell (Canada) – Director; and Eva Verity (Canada) – Producer, Director of Creative Production and Artistic Associate.

Sydney Panel Members: Jennie, Judith, Liz, Paul, Peter, Ronaldo

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 22

This production of All the Sex I’ve Ever Had is the ninth ‘edition’ staged in cities around the world, each with a panel of local people currently aged in their 60s and 70s.  The show is in the form of an entertainment, a little bit like live reality television with an element of the now ancient tv show, This Is Your Life.

It’s raison d’être, however, is not entertainment for entertainment’s sake.  The company’s name, Mammalian Diving Reflex, with its theory of evolution context, reveals a serious intention to explore human behaviour with a view to opening up our understanding.  Recent productions have been titled These Are the People in Your Neighbourhood and Nightwalks with Teenagers, for example.

And so this All the Sex begins with a pledge.  The audience agrees, led by Eva Verity (a most appropriate name for this role), never to gossip – that is never to reveal any personal information about the panel members or participating audience members outside the confines of this two hours in the theatre.

Although, it has to be said, there can be no guarantee that every member of the audience has really signed on, and the agreement can never be policed after the event, the pledge creates a powerful feeling of trust between those of us anticipating exciting revelations and those on the stage prepared to reveal all.

Without this trust the show could not go on.  I found myself recalling, from my days as a drama teacher, how essential that trust within the group was for continuing to learn from working closely together.  Rather than thinking of All the Sex I’ve Ever Had as an entertainment, it is more appropriate to see it as a kind of directed improvisation workshop in a drama class, where participants have the freedom to express themselves in a safe environment.

The event is given structure by chronology: each decade begins with a signature tune –  for 1940, Vera Lynn sings her wartime heart out in The White Cliffs of Dover, for example.  Particular years are then nominated according to the material provided by the panel members in their four-hour long interviews with the writers in preparing the show.  Since sex begins with birth, my story, if I had been on the panel, would begin with the announcement ‘1941’ and I would read from my script something like “I was born.  The snow in Wales was said to be so deep that my father was not able to reach the hospital at 6pm on the 9th of January.  Though I didn’t know that at the time, of course, I’ve never forgotten being told about it.” 

By the end of stories, often very funny, sometimes very sad, from both the panel members and volunteers in the audience, we reach the sparklers and fireworks of the Year 2000, the date now, and then look forward to when the youngest on the panel reaches 100 years old (in 2044 in this case).

As an entertainment, the descriptions of people’s sexual behaviours are inherently fascinating, and cover a wide range of social issues: about a father mistreating his daughter, say, or the advent of AIDs, or the depth of feeling as a long term partner succumbs to heart disease – or indeed to cheers in celebration of successful treatment of breast cancer.

As an education, the show opened up for me a much wider understanding of my own experiences in common with other people, and of the variety of sexual relationships far beyond my way of life.  Because the stories were personal, yet prepared in script form for public presentation, I found myself recognising the reality of other peoples’ ‘lifestyles’.  So often sexual behaviour was driven by underlying inbuilt tendencies personal to each individual, and practical choices had to be made according to the demands, of other family members, of social expectations, and even of the law.

And it was fascinating to see how attitudes in all these areas have changed over the last 70 years – including the acceptance of sexual activity in old age.

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had is not a conventional theatrical entertainment, but I found it a highly successful staged experience.  On the night I was there, a small group at one point did not respect the trust asked for in the pledge, but the Mammalian team quickly managed the situation very calmly and professionally – and the interruption itself became something to reflect upon as part of our experience.

Highly recommended.

All the Sex I've Ever Had - Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre
Sydney Festival January 2016
Photo: Prudence Upton