The Wonder of Sex

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

18/02/2011 - 18/02/2011

Production Details

It’s hard to think of a duo less likely to be helpful as sex counsellors than the pompous Desmond Olivier Dingle and his toupee-wearing sidekick Raymond Box. 

But counsel they do, attempting to re-enact legendary moments from the coital history of humankind and taking you, the audience, on a probing investigation into the fascinating world of SEX! including many famed sexual encounters re-enacted LIVE ON STAGE such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Casanova, The Kama Sutra and the Orgies of Rasputin. Not to mention a whole host of marital tips and answers to all your sexual problems.

“…miracle workers creating a blissful comedy of incompetence that somehow touches upon the profound.” Daily Telegraph

18 February – 12 March, 2011
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Featuring: Keith Adams and Phil Grieve

Fun in comical take on sex only lesson learned

Review by Barbara Frame 22nd Feb 2011

Rather than go into actual anatomical detail, therapist Desmond (“not professionally trained obviously, but I’ve taught myself”) and sidekick Raymond present a woefully uninstructive history of sex, starting with Oedipus and finishing with a ludicrous vision of the future. Choice moments include Rasputin rushing up and down the Fortune Theatre’s aisles distributing a handful of chocolates to the handful of audience members who have just helped with an on-stage recreation of the Russian Revolution, a lady patient on Dr Freud’s couch having terrible trouble with the seatbelt, and Lady Chatterley’s lover showing off his penguins.

A two-hander, The Wonder of Sex is by Patrick Barlow, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, which delighted Dunedin people last year. Lisa Warrington’s direction makes the most of the script’s comic possibilities: the inept, historically clueless little sketches that provide no information whatever, the pointless audience surveys that Raymond busies himself with, the animosity between the two characters that threatens to stop the show, and the pair’s technological hopelessness (paradoxically enabled by the excellence of Stephen Kilroy’s lighting and Rebecca De Prospo’s sound) and inability to focus on the subject in question.

Unrelentingly funny though the script is, the real impact depends on the inspired characters and the actors who play them. Phil Grieve is assured as Desmond, who has the suavity and oily charm of a game-show host, except when Raymond tries his patience too far. Raymond seems all incompetence and stage fright, but now and then he relaxes into one of the ridiculous parts Desmond requires him to play. Keith Adams plays him deliciously, and with more than a hint of Mr Bean. 

If you go, you’re unlikely to learn much about sex or anything else. But, like Friday night’s audience, you’ll be mightily entertained. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Ludicrously mismatched pairings

Review by Terry MacTavish 19th Feb 2011

Well, at least ‘the wonder of sexual attraction’, given the utter absurdity of the human reproductive method. No discernible message, deeper meaning or insight, but good for a giggle, as they say.  

Two bumbling actors fondly imagine they are the experts to enlighten us on this fascinating topic, even to provide a little counselling. We are warned complacently that what we are about to experience will not be fun or even enjoyable, in fact will cause anxiety and distress, and we realise we are cast as clients in dire need of sex therapy.

Patrick Barlow created The Thirty-Nine Steps so successfully mounted by the Fortune last year, and must have seemed a safe choice as an opener for the 2011 season, but The Wonder of Sex is similar only in that each actor plays many parts.

Barlow also founded Britain’s famous mock company, grandiosely entitled The National Theatre of Brent, consisting only of the overweeningly confident Artistic Director and Chief Executive Desmond Olivier Dingle, plus one hapless apprentice, Raymond Box, who functions as his entire company. The two re-enact great moments from history and tackle the mysteries of life, and this is also the format for The Wonder of Sex

I first encountered the NToB when also performing at the 1982 Edinburgh Festival, Barlow’s oeuvre being all of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, four magnificent operas in just 75 minutes, hilariously performed by three actors. The chief delight lay in the aspirations versus the actuality. Other NToB shows have been similarly ambitious, like The Messiah, Zulu! and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

The Wonder of Sex is a more diffuse concept; a series of vignettes rather than narrative. Men donning bonnets to parody ladies in scenes of passion certainly appeals to the juvenile mind, and the danger is that the play might resemble too closely the programmes of chirpy skits that the Health and Sex Ed teams tour round our schools.

That it rises above this is due to the care director Lisa Warrington and her cast have taken to develop a beautifully balanced Laurel-and-Hardy relationship between the assumed characters of Dingle and his acolyte Box, as well as Warrington’s cleverness in varying the staging of each steamy sexual encounter.

Dingle and Box (the names perhaps suggesting gender roles) emerge as an oddly charming combo, Box displaying great admiration for Dingle until he is denied his starring moment as Rasputin. The relationship comes to a head in the most risqué and passionate of their live re-enactments, Lady Chatterley and her earthy gamekeeper, bearded Dingle in a Queen Liz headscarf, and Box somewhat against type playing the dominating male.

Phil Grieve with his rich unctuous voice and suave presence makes an admirable Dingle, likeable despite his pomposity. He commands the audience with aplomb, at his best in high-status roles such as Henry VIII, Catherine the Great, and Herod. 

As the long-suffering Box, Keith Adams is a fabulous foil, all nervous twitches and marvellous spoonerisms as his tang gets tungled in his desperate desire to please. His long legs are employed to superb advantage in Salome’s show-stopping dance of the seven veils, performed to Beyoncé, no less. 

Both make the most of the comedy that arises in demonstrating ludicrously mismatched pairings. Sometimes this is biologically, like Oedipus (interpreted by Freud); more often socially mismatched, like Lady Chatterley or Czarina Alexandra. The latter is even credited with causing revolution due to her predilection for the ‘loose-loined’ Rasputin, who sports the most alarming pair of underpants seen on the Fortune’s stage.

At this juncture the audience is encouraged pantomime-style to be the crowd of Russian revolutionaries, shouting ‘authentic’ slogans and invading the stage as hussars, which was fun but went on too long. I preferred the moment when the audience quite spontaneously entered the action by audibly scolding Dingle for letting the offended Box leave the theatre. (He’d become aware of his rights through chatting to “Actors Equity and hobbits.”) 

Peter King’s set is a glossy white laboratory, its flashing high-tech machines flanked by white cubes with cunning little doors popping open to reveal anything from bottles of testosterone to a teapot. Part of the NToB charm is its effort to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – some felt the recent production in Britain’s real national theatre ruined the amateur-in-village-hall illusion – and the Fortune’s polished stage technology is almost too good. 

It really pays off, though, in the second half, when the sound and light effects go haywire, and the wrong bits of set and props appear, due to the remote control’s accidental dive into the aforementioned teapot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a funnier version of an actor ‘finding his light’. Meanwhile the pretentious music enhances the scenes, with the bonus of a rather charming slideshow of Venice (backing a Casanova scene) and lovely silly tourist commentary by Suzanne Paul – perfect choice!

In the theatre foyer is a cheerful buzz of excitement over the fresh start for the Fortune under its dynamic new artistic director Lara Macgregor. The Wonder of Sex makes a great glass of bubbles as the aperitif for what will hopefully be a substantial menu of tasty theatre for 2011. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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