Where does one begin when reviewing a production such as sex.violence.blood.gore? This is a piece that defies criticism. It exists to provoke, to inspire, to offend and to encourage conversation. Whether the dialogue is poetically shaped or heavy handed and awkward is irrelevant. The goal of this piece is to trigger a reaction from the audience, and in this respect S.V.B.G. is a success
Did I enjoy the production? Not really.
Am I the target audience? Absolutely not.
A great deal of the problem with this piece is it's cultural significance. The playwright, Alfian bin Sa'at, is a Singapore born Malay-Muslim. Sexual repression is a theme that would naturally exude from the works of someone with that background. The nature of sexuality, the destructive force of desire and the acceptance of freedom of sexual expression are sure to be hot topics in that part of the world, and any performance piece that even scratches the surface of these issues will be seen as revelatory.
I am not of any Asian decent. I was raised in a western culture, where sex is a part of everyday life. Every night on television sex is used to sell me things, to encourage me to watch certain programs, to persuade me to eat better, to exercise. I cannot open my email account without being bombarded by promises of longer lasting sex and adding 2 inches to my manhood. Finding pornography on the net is easier that finding the quickest way from Church St to Flinders St on public transport. We have lived like this for years now, and we accept it. We even embrace it. In order for a piece of art to really provoke a response from us when it comes to the nature of sexuality we need it to delve deeper than the surface deconstruction provided by S.V.B.G. and although it most likely raised eyebrows in its native country upon its premiere, it did not elicit the intended response from me.
The piece is presented in 5 parts, each with its own independent story. While the quality of each varies the theme is the same; Do we control our sexual desires or do they control us? Each part runs for roughly 15 minutes and ranges from light and almost comical to sombre and reflective. Subject matters such as Nymphomania, repressed homosexuality, transgender identity and even group sex are handled carefully and sometimes poignantly. Sadly though, the questions raised are never fully explored, and as an audience we are left only to ponder what might have been.
While the text can be seen to have many flaws this production had only few. It was performed with great maturity and poise by a very talented cast, some who were given the opportunity to shine more than others. Particularly excellent were the lead actresses in the second segment, portraying two english women suffering lesbian fantasies towards their Cantonese maids.
Also special mention needs to be made of the final segment, a long and detailed monologue performed with magnetism by the segments solo actress.
The stage and lighting design by Eugyeene Teh and Yasmin Santoso respectively, were both highly affective. What looked like Roman spires framed the stage while its archway was littered with phallic objects. Combined with the red and pink hue of the lighting design it made for an excellent performance space, evoking an ancient bordello but in a dream like surrounding. It certainly is an interesting and evocative room, so congratulations go to these two designers for making the most of it.
Direction by Stephen Nicolazzo made good use of the text and gave certain moments the required rawness and raunchiness. It was clear that he had worked with the actors to find a unified acting style, so that the ideas of the piece were given one voice. It was a style that was embraced by certain performers more than others, and the absurdist nature of the performance as a whole was its strongest aspect.
While its hard to recommend a piece like this I think it's more difficult to predict other audience members reactions to it. It is certainly not for everyone, and I feel opinions will differ greatly for those who do witness it.
While I enjoyed the presentation of the text I found myself constantly frustrated with its inability to arouse more than a passing reflection of its core issues, problem that I fear is geographical more than a matter of personal taste. It is sad that a production with a name as provocative as sex.violence.blood.gore fails to live up to the promise of its title (and only features 1.5 out of the 4).
Note: The program, while informative, provided no pictures of the performers or information regarding which characters they played, resulting in the inability to refer to actors by name when singling out particular performances.