After the success of Kill Climate Deniers in 2018, playwright David Finnigan again brings climate change explicitly to the stage with a story full of raunchy, raucous characters and extreme circumstances. This time environmentalism comes up against click-bait sexuality when a young writer finds herself caught in the middle of art v capitalism and control v pleasure.
Celina (Emma Harvie) wants to be a writer, a real writer, but she’s currently stuck writing puff pieces for an online lifestyle magazine. One week, an unbelievable assignment comes across her desk; an opportunity, perhaps, to leverage for some stability, certainty, and, best of all, respect. The assignment is to thoroughly review a new book by renowned sex coach Malaine Gutierrez, (Rebecca Massey) the 44 Sex Acts That Will Change Your Life. The hardest part? Finding a partner to do it all with. After scouring the dating apps, Celina lands on the office grump, environmental activist weirdo Alab (Matt Hardie). Unsurprisingly, their strictly business relationship begins to blur as they work their way through exhibitionism, role play, and BDSM as dictated by guru Malaine.
In typical Finnigan style, 44 Sex Acts in One Week was ostensibly silly and outrageous but with the underlying message of climate change activism, integrated here through the narration of Keith Robinson as Alab some 70 years in the future. In the hands of Sheridan Harbridge’s brash direction, the script extended and expanded on its extremes with a set (designed by Trent Suidgeest) stuffed to the gills with shimmering streamers and bright, roving multicoloured lights, abundant use of on-stage sound effects using ironing boards, leather belts, and lots and lots of fruit to achieve cartoon-levels of gimmick, and big, physical acting from the relatively small cast. The cacophony of light, sound, and movement played into the larger-than-life characterisation of Malaine Gutierrez and demonstrated her influence on the quieter lives of Celina and Alab. It was also incredibly entertaining, giving the audience room to loosen up and enter into the deeply innuendo-ed world of the script. The themes of pleasure, abundance, revelry, and humour overflowed from every aspect of the production and rained down on the audience like confetti from a cannon.
Massey was the biggest performer by far, reeling the audience into Malaine’s public persona with ease. But the other characters also carried their own brand of performativity, if less satirical in aim. Priscilla Doueihy won affection as a boof-head environmental activist and good mate to Alab, and Hardie was remarkably likeable for the office sourpuss. Harvie provided a perfectly balanced characterisation of a young woman treading water in all aspects of her life with her customary quirky/cut-throat tone. The dynamic between Alab and Celina could have easily fallen into a cliche hard-and-soft-type relationship if not for Hardie and Harvie’s dedication to each of their characters’ pig-headedness of choice.
Alab, in his side-plot about releasing animals from the local zoo as well as his reflective musings through Robinson, provides the link between climate change science and Celina’s week of sexual experimentation with the tenuous premise that humans are also animals, guided by the same urges and desires as other wild animals, but the impact of humans’ choices, particularly the wish to control the environment, has unpredictable and far-reaching consequences for everyone. This is, again, loosely tied to Celina’s narrative arc of finding happiness and fulfilment as a subordinate cog in the machine of online media rather than dreaming of individual artistic success, which really reads as more capitalist than collectivist at its heart. Overall, the environmentalist messaging and Robinson’s recitation of the dire future awaiting us felt completely irrelevant to the central story.
44 Sex Acts in One Week is smart and funny, executed well by artists with an eye for the outrageous but, in reaching for a higher purpose, it falls into a false sense of security about its own ambitions and the very world its critiquing.
44 Sex Acts in One Week ran at the Seymour Centre from January 12th – 16th
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