Review: Sex Magick (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 17 – Mar 25, 2023
Playwright: Nicholas Brown
Directors: Nicholas Brown, Declan Greene
Cast: Blazey Best, Raj Labade, Stephen Madsen, Veshnu Narayanasamy, Mansoor Noor, Catherine Văn-Davies
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review

Ard is following his new flame to India, but as it turns out, the trip is a lot more than a romantic gesture. His estranged father had left the Kerala region for Sydney more than 30 years ago, and it is now Ard’s opportunity to find out not only who his people are, but also why his father had chosen to emigrate. Nicholas Brown’s Sex Magick is a wild and profound odyssey about identity, love and sex, with a particular interest in the process of decolonisation and queering, in a person’s understanding of the self, and by extension of the world. It is about breaking the myths of white Australia, to create new identities, based on investigations into migrant histories, and the imagination of a future rid of the harmful baggage from all our pasts.

It may be a serious core that anchors Brown’s story, but Sex Magick is boldly extravagant and extremely playful, with genuine hilarity persisting for its entire two-and-a-half hour duration. Directed by Brown and Declan Greene, the show is relentlessly fascinating in its explorations into sexuality, and all that it implies. We watch characters deconstruct themselves, awkwardly but powerfully, and emerge reconstituted with a greater sense of freedom, in relation to the self, and to the world at large. Sex is about how a person relates to the world, and if one wishes to radically alter their experience on this plain, it may seem that it is their conceptions about matters of a sexual nature, that need to be interrogated.

Brown and Greene’s ostentatious aesthetic is seen most prominently, in a rhapsodic lighting design by Kelsey Lee, who holds no punches in delivering a visual landscape full of wonder and fantasy. Equally mesmerising is the lavish sound design by Danni A. Esposito, intensive and adventurous in its determination to move us into unpredicted realms, both geographical and metaphysical. Video projections by Solomon Thomas guide us further into greater intimacies of the show’s carnal interests. Mason Browne’s set design helps to facilitate surprising, and rapid, entrances and exits, while his costumes offer quick insight into the many personalities appearing on stage.

Actor Raj Labade is judiciously subtle in his portrayal of Ard, in order that we may connect with the tender centre of his narrative. Also effective is his quiet rendering of Ard’s comical aspects, able to make us perceive all the humour, whilst maintaining the resonantly earnest quality of his search for answers to existential mysteries. Catherine Văn-Davies demonstrates astonishing intricacy and precision, in her depictions of Liraz, the zealous lesbian who finds herself inadvertently entwined with Ard. Văn-Davies embrace of Sex Magick‘s deep subversiveness, allows her to make us giggle even at the play’s more curious moments, and then cry when we least expect to. Also very funny is Stephen Madsen, whose marvellous comic timing delivers many of the biggest laughs, in a trio of roles, all creatively rendered to amuse us to no end.

Blazey Best too is masterful in three parts, all evocative and comical, with finely honed voice and physicality, to tell stories in the most compelling ways. Mansoor Noor is especially memorable as Boyd, who prides himself for being the plus in LGBTQIA+, a free-spirited entity who brings warmth and benevolence to the delightfully erratic presentation. The auditorium comes to a sudden still, when Veshnu Narayanasamy first appears, completely hypnotic with his dance, promptly shifting our sentiments to something altogether more weighty and substantive. Choreography by Raghav Handa channels beauty, tradition and spirituality in a work that is ultimately, an exercise in reaching for the eternal and divine.

There is no end to the human need for truth; that quest is perennial. What we can hope for over time however, is more wisdom and more enlightenment, should we choose to go through these worthy pursuits of discovery and emancipation. Characters in Sex Magick surprise themselves, with the people they become, in every step of their respective evolutions. Some of us think we know who we are, some of us profess to knowing little about themselves, but life has a knack for revealing deeper truths, if only to show that we are always but only scratching the surface, in a world that we often mistakenly think to be our dominion.