Review: 'Sex Education' @ Tobacco Factory

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By Jules Chan, Second Year, Law

It takes about three minutes for ‘Sex Education’ by Harry Clayton-Wright to propel the room in to the kind of atmosphere reserved only for the awkward pubescent hysterics of school biology classes.

Much like those lessons, it all begins with a video being played, although few of us will have had a teacher quite as entertaining or provocative as this.

A sequence of childhood photos flash across the screen set to music, leading up to graphic, almost pornographic scenes featuring Clayton-Wright.

What we see though, is honest rather than erotic, a sort of anti- ‘Emanuelle.’ The following hour is less a show, and more a compilation of individual performance pieces strung together by theme, intertwining and interacting with each other: Independent and separate explorations into Clayton-Wright’s sexuality and how it has been shaped by their relationships.

It’s a precarious balance to strike, and critically one which it doesn’t quite pull off; ‘Sex Education’ often feels like a show burdened by its medium, with the individual explorations never truly coming together to be more than the sum of its parts.

Pacing is the main culprit here. There is this show-stopping moment of vulnerability around the end of the first act which, whilst devastatingly effective in itself, slows down the propulsive energy that Clayton-Wright brought to the snappy earlier sections. Making no attempt to capitalise on this slower pace though, the emotional gravitas of the moment is too quickly interrupted and lost to an (admittedly comedic) George Michael dance routine. The second half subsequently meanders, never quite recapturing the spirited beginning, and never quite delivering us to a more satisfying emotional resolution.

To suggest that any of this means that ‘Sex Education’ was a bad show though, would be to negate the heights those individual explorations reach. There’s a layer of authenticity and vulnerability to ‘Sex Education’s’ approach that render the weaker points as distinctly human features - only adding in their imperfections.

The lack of resolution to that end of first-act penny drop is (for all the difficulties it causes for subsequent sections) more honest than a fictionalised conclusion, a temptation that a lesser artist would have succumbed to. Instead, Clayton-Wright seems genuinely interested in forming a bond with an audience, exposing his vulnerabilities, and in his own words; ‘democratising his body’.

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Provoking a reaction against the typical sensibilities of society towards sex. All goals which are thoroughly achieved albeit individually, rather than cohesively.

There’s a moment around two quarters of the way in which I find telling of ‘Sex Education’s’ philosophy. In it, Clayton Wright, slumped over a chair spells out a message for us: ‘gay sex education is suicide prevention’ - a line that in in other shows would have been left to subtext rather than text. In this respect, ‘Sex Education’ feels as if the works of the ‘Guerrilla Girls’ had manifested themselves in to theatre form to take on issues of sex positivity. Much like their works, the value of ‘Sex Education’ lays not in the execution of the message, but rather the message itself. Undeniably, Clayton-Wright is bold, confrontational, brave, and although mediocre as theatre, excellent as art.

Featured Image: Greg Bailey


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