Written by Cressida Peever and directed by Philippa Lawford, Sex Education tackles the issues surrounding sex education, or lack thereof, that young people receive today. The play revolves around a young aspiring teacher and her experience of how sex education is taught in schools whilst dealing with the personal relationships that unfold between students, teachers and football coaches.
Walking into a Fringe production entitled Sex Education with my mother, who had accepted the invite before I told her the title of the show, I was uncertain as to what line of sex education this was going to take and was very much considering sending her to a nearby bar for the duration of the hour instead. As it turned out, we left the show having a discussion which was in open breach of would-be awkward topics surrounding sexual experience. In itself this is a testament to the success of the production; leading by example it opens a far less uptight space for communication about issues such as consent, sexual pressures and pornography. Cressida Peever’s humorous script is able to carry the stereotypes and employ the awkwardness of talking about sexual relations between young people well enough to make for high school drama that makes you laugh as much as it does think seriously about the repercussions of the way in which teenagers have to navigate the unknown territory of sex for themselves.
For the first 15 minutes, there is a feeling that you are watching a nervous school production or have perhaps woken up in a particularly doctrinal episode of Waterloo Road – certainly amplified by the fact that half of the cast are playing angsty teenagers wearing loose school ties, however, this wears off as the actors seem to grow into their characters and come out from behind the school uniforms by the time their first sex education lesson is complete. The audience take quickly to the solidly portrayed obliviousness of Patrick (Antoni Cerwinkski) and amusing wisecracks of Jay (Casey Frederiske). Lily Kuenzler as Mim delivers a particularly captivating performance as she manages to stand out in an often clichéd ‘new girl’ role. One of the most interesting debates that takes place is about whether females are empowered or demeaned by pornography and naked photographs: a controversial topic which the plot weaves itself around impressively, as Chelle (Annoushka Clear) is bound by the societal expectations which she obliviously adheres to whilst Mim – who is all too conscious of them – is able to reject them. The show gets away with often running into overly didactic territory, just through it’s well-timed sharp wit and the impeccably cast actors who are able to draw some real investment into the drama through their onstage chemistry.
Peever’s script aims to tackle the problems that surround the current stand-off approach that the government adopts towards sex education for young people with good old-fashioned conversation and cooperation. Her script doesn’t hold back in terms of dealing with young and particularly female struggles surrounding sex, slut-shaming and body issues. It is through such honesty – even more so than the flippant humour – that the play holds it’s own. The running football theme serves as a neat metaphorical accompaniment to the drama: success arrives when players are able to cooperate and communicate; problems arise when personal aggression and lack of perception is taken out on others on the field.
Overall, Sex Education makes an entertaining and strong case for the message that it carries: progress is made by creating an open space for discussion, and it is at a loss to young people that very real issues about sex are brushed under the carpet.