Directed by Anthony Skuse
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Season: 15 February - 12 March
Love comes in all different forms and plays out in different ways depending on the relationship. Bathsheba Doran’s piece The Mystery of Love and Sex is a humorous, bold and deeply touching examination on the most formative relationships in Charlotte’s life in the midst of trying to understand sexuality, her place in the world and the importance of true love – romantic, familial, and through friendship. Anthony Skuse’s direction creates a disarming intimacy with the audience that makes this production one to remember.
The play details the characters’ lives as Charlotte (Contessa Treffone) and her best friend from childhood, Jonny (Thuso Lekwape), go through university together, through to 5 years on in their lives. Charlotte’s parents Howard (Nicholas Papademetriou) and Lucinda (Deborah Galanos) want the best for her and Jonny is like a quasi-son to them. And they’re trying to work out what the status of Charlotte and Jonny’s relationship is. They say that they’re just friends. Jonny is a black Christian and this proves to become a slight tension when Howard, a white Jew, tries to compete with him in a competition of oppression. This, alongside the casual racism, sexism and homophobia in Howard’s successful series of detective fiction novels ultimately creates a rift in Jonny and Howard’s relationship, with a ripple effect. Meanwhile, Charlotte takes on an experimental attitude in regards to relationships to try and work out her sexuality – warmly encouraged by her fantastically carefree mother - while Jonny refuses to have sex with his girlfriend due to his religion.
Doran’s play is richly layered and presents on the page characters that have a clear life force. It’s a superb foundation for the actors to play and create the complex and colourful individuals we see on stage. While the dialect isn’t always strong across the board, characterisations are otherwise very believable. The very first scene felt to me a bit rigid and forced, however the dynamics between the characters warmed up rapidly to create amusingly witty and somewhat unconventional relations. You love each of the characters because of the quirks they wear gregariously on their sleeve.
Treffone allows the audience to be privy to some dazzling moments of vulnerability. We are gifted with astounding scenes of intimacy between Charlotte and both Jonny and Lucinda. Nudity is used not in a sexual way but to evoke a sort of metaphorical (and literal) nakedness – exposure of one’s self to another. It highlighted for me the closeness we crave to other human beings, a desire to bare all for someone you trust with no secrets or hiding places. We make a big deal about nudity in our society (#freethenipple), with the guise of protecting people from over-sexualisation, or maintaining social propriety or something. But in this play we see two characters boldly allow themselves to be seen, willingly assailable, and it’s a moment of beauty.
Both Treffone and Lekwape explore Charlotte and Jonny’s journeys to understand their sexuality with nuance and clarity, in spite of the overwhelming confusion experienced by their characters. Pertinent to me was the shame and burden of secrecy brought to the fore by Lekwape. You could feel palpably his struggle in conflict with his religious views and his desire to do the right thing – whatever that may be.
The action is framed by an uprooted and upside down tree, reaching from floor to ceiling. The production design is by Emma Vine, and is both visually impressive and thought-provoking. As the events unveil, more and more it appears that nothing is as it ‘should’ be. And yet, there it is.
Skuse’s production of The Mystery of Love and Sex reinforces the enigmatic and confounding nature of these unavoidable phenomena in our lives – love and sex. It does so with riveting honesty and rawness that is a rarity in our society, constricted by image-obsession and the cult of comparison. Each of the actors succeed fabulously in playing with the humour in the work, softening and affecting the audience to be more receptive to their profound self-discoveries. Go see this show, and allow yourself to be enraptured.