Writer: Nicholas Brown
Co-directors: Nicholas Brown and Declan Green
February 7 – March 25, 2023
Sex Magick is a magical fit for Sydney WorldPride 2023. Nicholas Brown’s both playful and inclusive approach to sexuality and identity is enlightening and most welcome in a time obsessed with labelling.
Brown questions deep-rooted assumptions made about cultural conditioning, dominant societal expectation, and cultural appropriation through charting the bewildering journey of Ard Panikkar (Raj Labade) – and to a lesser but important extent, of Liraz (Catherine Văn Davies) – towards liberation from pigeon-holing (hence the lockers as background) either imposed upon them by others or self-inflicted.
The two meet up when Ard, dismissed from his job as a physiotherapist at the Hyperions Rugby Club for an “indiscretion”, is searching for new employment driven by the need to meet the expectations of his rugby tragic bride-to-be mother, Cindy (Blazey Best). In desperation, he resorts to accepting a job at Liraz’s “wellness” centre which offers among other pseudo-Indian elements, ayurvedic massage.
After Ard, endearingly portrayed by Labdade as a larrikin with a sub-text, has given Liraz a sample of his massage technique, she is awakened to the possibilities of a deeper connection. Ard would add authentic colour to a business its all-white partners are trying to project onto their middle-class clientele, and she could intensify her new employee’s skills and her own experience by speeding off to an ashram in Kerala, India.
A delightfully fraudulent western version/vision of a Hindu spiritual teacher, Manmatha (an imposing Stephen Madsen), indulges in foggy therapy and clever wordplay and, on their return to Sydney, Ard is in a state of existential confusion as is the avowed lesbian Liraz. As demonstrated by complete on-stage nudity, gender is apparently clearly defined by bodily appearance – and the set of behaviours associated by the dominant culture with that appearance – however there are other cultural perspectives.
The inseparability of the masculine and feminine is beautifully brought to expression through the alluring performance of Kathakali dancer, Veshnu Narayanasamy, as Ardhanarishvara, the lord who is half-female. Poor Ard, his real name truncated to suit the dominant body-tied culture – how will he and boy-kissing Liraz, whose essential earnestness is well portrayed by Văn Davies, be at peace with themselves?
The success of Sex Magick owes much to two factors. Firstly, the skilfulness with which Blazey and Madsen play several roles with super-fast costume changes and to the subtlety of an always reasonable Mansoor Noor who is often present suggesting that “bliss” – his name – is attainable through a shift in perspective. And secondly, the magical transformations that are achieved through exceptionally imaginative staging.
From “yummy mummies” to Generations X, Y and Z, social parlance conditions us to identify others and ourselves as fitting into a “cohort”, an approach that originates in target marketing. The exhilarant sense of freedom that brings Sex Magick to its conclusion is the discovery of the fluidity of human (sexual) relationships rather than individuals fixating on a group identity.