Like Sex | The Basement Theatre | 24 May-3 June, 6:30pm
Review by Jennifer Kirby
If you attended high school in New Zealand, chances are you remember the horror that was the dreaded “beep test.” Designed to test fitness, it involved running from one end of the gym to the other between increasingly fast-paced beeps, trying not to be the first one to fall short. What a delight, then, to find that one of my darkest memories of high school- the aforementioned beep test- should be used to structure one of the most daring plays to address teenage life in recent memory.
Opening with a group of students performing the fitness test, playwright Nathan Joe’s Like Sex offers a series of episodic vignettes involving teen sex, separated and divided up by beeps. Increasingly, we come to see that the pressure placed on teens to engage in a particular kind of socially accepted sexual activity is not too different from the pressures one experiences in the beep test.
The show is about different sexual encounters that range from the school’s so-called “slut” propositioning a bad boy smoking outside, to a devastating loss of virginity at a party, to a first lesbian experience between friends. While these experiences are all inter-personal between two characters, the play emphasizes the social expectations that structure a number of these encounters through the inspired device of often having other cast members on stage carrying out activities such as watching in the corner, adding verbal emphasis to the exchanges or shining torch lights on the teens during the encounter. In the small space of The Basement’s Studio, these intimate encounters become even more claustrophobic as the actors fill the performance space.
Equally creatively, Like Sex utilises inventive depictions of the sex itself, involving various symbolic props and movements, sometimes for humorous- and sometimes for emotional- effect. These different symbolic representations sexual encounters are not just a means to avoid nudity, but instead become indicative of the differences between the sexual experiences shown. Indeed, the show, directed by Chye-Ling Huang, is not prudish or moralistic about teen sex; rather it depicts a variety of encounters, both organically moving and deeply awkward, disturbing or uncomfortable.
The young cast, selected from a pool of recent graduates from various drama schools, give the play a sense of authenticity due not only to their proximity in age to the characters they play, but also their fresh energy. This play is unmistakably young and that is its biggest strength. Combining confrontational spirit with a surprising tenderness and empathy towards the pressures faced by teenagers, Like Sex moves beyond the controversial allure of a socially taboo topic and offers an engrossing, provocative study of teenage (sexual) relations within the microcosmic society of high school.
What: Like Sex
When: 6.30pm, 24 May – 3 June
Where: The Basement Theatre
Who: Directed by Chye-Ling Huang; written by Nathan Joe; Cast: Reuben Bowen, Bronwyn Ensor, Zak Enayat, Amber Liberté, Valeria Mendoza-Davis, William Moffatt, and Bianca Paine.
Tickets: Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased here.