Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 23 – 28, 2015
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Emma Chelsey, Cat Martin, Diego AR Melo, Dominic McDonald
Image by Liam O’Keefe
Sex is a difficult thing to talk about. It is deeply personal, and social etiquette dictates that we keep it hidden under wraps. What is proffered to be general and common knowledge are invariably narrow definitions of healthy sexual functioning and practice. Maturity is therefore almost always an awkward process that involves young people grappling with unexpected deviations from those preconceived notions of norms, and the turmoil that it precipitates can be quite agonising.
Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is about Abigail, a young woman trying to understand her sexual self, through the discovery of sexual diversity in erotic literature. The plot is devised with a creative vision, using well-considered anti-chronological timelines and the meaningful juxtaposition of fantasy with reality, but for what is clearly the most risqué of themes at its centre, Brennan’s approach is uncomfortably polite. The raunchy context requires a certain quality of bluntness, or perhaps a coarser sensibility, in order that its jokes may cut deeper, and its many libidinous situations resonate with greater danger and tension.
Director Richard Hilliar introduces a good amount of theatricality to the staging, with strong support by designers (Ash Bell’s costumes are especially noteworthy) to create a show that is effervescent and fast-paced, but it seems to shy away from the opportunity for an exploration into sex and its boundaries that goes beyond the surface. Occupying centre stage is Abigail’s tedious impassivity, which grows more and more pronounced with time, and its presence is allowed to take over the story without it ever being interesting enough. Emma Chelsey plays the lead with a convincing naiveté and an appearance that easily portrays both girl and woman, but her performance is too plain. Without a sense of complexity that intrigues or titillates, the exercise is one that ultimately feels puerile and overly cautious.
Brennan and her protagonist’s journey from girl to goddess might not be the most compelling tale, but it provides a universal parallel for those of us who have experimented and have found our individualistic inclinations in what could be life’s greatest joy. The revelations that come with the formation of confident sexualities are invariably profound, and it is that kind of poignancy that all work about sexual awakenings have to live up to.