The Mystery of Love and Sex has a lot more to offer than what its (pretty glib) title suggests. Bathsheba Doran, the writer of HBO's ‘Boardwalk Empire’, has written an engaging piece of theatre dealing with contemporary characters and the lives they've chosen for themselves. This is a play about the paths our hearts can’t ignore, even in the face of religious and familial tradition. Doran introduces us to four delightfully fleshed-out characters, all different in their own way, and all delightfully flawed. Deliberately programmed to coincide with Mardi Gras, this is primarily a coming-out story.
Friends since nappies, Charlotte and Johnny have always loved one another. She confides in him about her recent feelings for another woman, and unbeknownst to her, Johnny is struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality. Charlotte’s parents - quirky, flippant, yet doting - are key forces in the play. They are humorously hesitant, judgemental even, but consistently invested in their daughter’s happiness. This being the case, The Mystery Of Love And Sex isn't so much a story about how coming out might affect those around us, as much as it is a tale of the joys and perils of coming out to yourself. It’s an elating story, despite the fact that its text is meatier than its plot.
The writing occasionally risks being a little too naff and expositional for a sophisticated Darlinghurst audience, however this is largely forgiven by the hard work done by the exceptional cast, each strong and endearing in their own right.
The stand-out is Contessa Treffone as Charlotte. Loveable in all respects, Treffone masters the difficult balancing act of exceptional comic-timing and a grounded vulnerability. Treffone proves her worth as a leading lady; she's definitely one to watch. Johnny, played by Thuso Lekwape, is also a strong presence. His journey from naive and sensitive teenager, to conceited, then confident adult is nuanced and engaging. The raw and genuine chemistry between the two young characters is the driving force of the play. That being said, Nicholas Papademetriou often found his moments to steal the show! A comedic master at work, his role is dynamic, and he handles huge leaps between tender father and angry, biased writer with ease. His counterpart is Deborah Galanos. Blessed with hilarious one-liners throughout, Galanos is a punchy presence in the show, with a tenderness and strength to match Papademtriou's.
The show is no small feat for any of the four cast members, however each attacked the script with all that they had. That said, there’s a lot of space to fill in the longer, more expositional scenes - and this is mainly the fault of an episodic structure, wrought by a writer who made her bones in television. I would have loved to see the growth in playfulness that would inevitably have occurred had the production continued its run for another month. Anthony Skuse’s direction felt secure on the most part, and it never shied away from moments of exploration. The best example of this comes with the final scene, involving a bit of ad-libbery, and fairy-light hanging (you’ll only ever know what I’m talking about if you see the play!); it was a stroke of genius. Skuse’s approach is warm and subtle, drawing us all in with its simplicity. The style of direction is complemented by Emma Vine's striking, minimalist design. She uses strong and simple gestures such as a suspended, upside-down golden tree, and a raked stage. Aesthetically breathtaking in isolation, yet well harmonised in concert with the action.
The Mystery of Love and Sex is certainly a moving theatrical experience. It's a meditation on a subject that's extremely relevant to the LGBTQI community. But even patrons who wouldn't consider themselves a member of that community might just find something in there to challenge them. It's not a perfect play, but this production was emotional and relatable - two things rarely seen.