It’s a little difficult to write a review about a play when there is a caveat at the beginning that “What happens at ‘All the Sex I’ve Ever Had’ stays at ‘All the Sex I’ve Ever Had’.” Director, Darren O’Donnell’s request at the outset of this brilliant and sometimes confronting show at HOTA last night, turned out to be more than reasonable. The panel of six over-65-year-olds were more than generous in openly sharing their sexual experiences over the course of their lives, and given that these are all Gold Coast locals (who we in the audience are quite likely to bump into at the supermarket), I am more than happy to keep the details of their extraordinary experiences to myself.
‘All the Sex I’ve Ever Had’ is theatre like I’ve never experienced before. The ‘play’ developed by Mammalian Diving Reflex’s O’Donnell, has been performed around the world since 2010. Locals over the age of 65 in each city are interviewed for four hours, and their stories are condensed into vignettes that are bravely presented over the timeline from birth to the present by the locals themselves. A feat that would require enormous courage in any big city where anonymity is more assured, but allowing oneself to be openly vulnerable in a smaller regional city such as the Gold Coast deserves respect.
The play is not just about past and current sex. Starting in 1941 when the first vibrant panelist was born, the experiences shared are about everything from awkward first sexual experiences, various partners, sex in different countries, same sex experiences, sex while on drugs, experimental sex, group sex, and casual sex, to heartbreak, rape, abortion, controlling and cheating partners, loss of children, addiction, and self sabotage. All this imparted with humour and sincerity. These people have lived fearless, uninhibited lives, and seeing them up on stage breaking into dance a couple of times, joking around with each other, and candidly discussing their hopes for sex in the future was a joy to watch. This was as much a play for young people as older peers of the panel. Millennials to Gen Ys should be inspired the hope that sexual adventure need never end, as long as judgement and trepidation are abandoned.
A warning that audience participation is a big part of the show. No-one has to take their clothes off or perform embarrassing acts, but O’Donnell and co-writer/producer Felicity Nicols walk around the audience with microphones for those audience members forthright enough to answer the panel’s questions about sticky topics such as heterosexuals who’ve had same-sex experiences, early sex as children with inanimate objects, and cheating on their partners.
I thought I was pretty open-minded and had had a reasonably active sex life over the years, but after seeing this show I felt like a narrow-minded prude. I asked one panel member after the show whether the panel was skewed toward more extroverted, sexually uninhibited people and she agreed that people with less diverse and less frequent sexual experiences in life would have been unlikely to come forward for the auditions let alone share their experiences up on a stage. So there was no need to feel inadequate. This bunch of seniors are sexual rock stars!