Review: And Now To Bed (Subtlenuance Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 11 – 22, 2015
Playwrights: Con Nats, Donna Abela, Mark Langham, Sarah Carradine, Margaret Davis, Melissa Lee Speyer, Katie Pollock
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Paul Armstrong, Shauntelle Benjamin, Erica Brennan, Richard Cornally, Jennie Dibley, Edric Hong, Eleanor Stankiewicz

Theatre review
Sex can reveal all of a person, but awareness of its machinations and psychological implications for any individual is rarely a thorough one. We let our sexualities be, because, contrary to Freudian theories, knowing too much can sometimes be destructive, as pleasures can fade away when they come under excessive scrutiny. Also, it is in our nature to guard our privacies, and self-preservation dictates that we rarely articulate what it is that turns us on. And Now To Bed features seven actors performing their own biographies. Each is teamed up with a writer who creates a text out of their understanding of each subject and their sexual lives. The actor-writer relationship should be an intimate one, but there is no telling how secrets are handled in this process. There are vivid moments, but much of the writing is coy. We cannot be sure if it is the subject or the author who maintains a sense of non-disclosure, but talking about sex requires that we are frank about things, or the purpose is defeated. There is beautiful writing to be found in every segment, but those who choose to be obscure or abstract do not leave the same impression as the ones who confront us more directly. Like in sex, art is at its most meaningful when people connect.

Shauntelle Benjamin and Donna Abela’s partnership is a powerful one. Their explicit depiction of sex acts exposes not only the brutality many people are capable of, but also the quality of masochism that resides in many of our experiences. Benjamin’s enthusiasm for the stage reflects the workings of libido, and its ferocious honesty. Her portrayal highlights the uniqueness that resides in each person, with an idiosyncrasy that rejects notions of simple and universal understandings of sexuality. Jennie Dibley and Margaret Davis create a romantic narrative that traverses decades. Dibley’s maturity in attitude brings to her not unusual story, an unorthodox emotional dimension that encompasses forgiveness and kindness, in place of melancholic drama. We observe the healing quality of time, and a surprising purity that can come with age. Even though there seems a deliberate rejection of angst and sorrow in Dibley’s work, she remains a delightful actor with an endearing and captivating authenticity.

Direction is provided by Paul Gilchrist who is faithful to each of the pieces, allowing his collaborative artists divergent contexts that are required for their individualistic modes of expression. Consequently, the program is colourful in tone, and pluralistic in its approach to the theme of discussion. Gilchrist’s sensitivity to the material can be seen in the confident cast of actors who all bring a warm earnestness to what they are willing to share. The production is eighty minutes long, with segments that would appeal to different tastes, but there is a somewhat bizarre lack of erotic energy indicating an exploration of sex that is a lot about the head, and very little about the body. Talking about sex in public is difficult, for very good reason. Our reluctance to go in too deep is understandable, for only a select few would see the appeal of such vulnerable divulgences, and fortunately for us, they tend to be artists.