[Review:] SEX(Y) ED, The Bread and Roses Theatre, London.
For clarification, where Worden and Robirosa are mentioned, this refers to the performers; where Lill and Lila are mentioned alone, this refers to the personae of Lil and Lila as presented within the dramatic text.
Sex(y) Ed is an exceptionally strong comedy created and performed by Lill Worden (playing “Lill”) and Lila Robriosa (playing “Lila”).
First, structure and form. Lill Worden and Lila Robirosa clearly know how to structure a comedic performance. The duo incorporate seamlessly into their work an array of comedic techniques, from repetition to buffooning to caricatures to their use of chaos and disorder, and the effects are terrific. This is an exemplary performance for modern clowning. The use of the flip charts, for example, and the songs about thrush, bisexuality and period blood provide this performance through their varied repetition with a sense of identity and structure. However far we deviate from the ‘main body of material’, we know we will always end up back at these elements, meaning that material feels contained and not too incongruous.
Even these deviations are pertinent to the main body, however. I refer, for instance, to the Goldilocks scene and what I shall call the verbatim scene, when the two mime along to a voiceover of a conversation between two women about their experiences of sex and sex education. These scenes, as wildly stylistically dissimilar from the rest of the material as they seem, continue to reflect theme and subject matter effectively, and so their inclusion certainly does the work justice. I should also note that a sense of cyclicality and stability is also aided by the symmetry offered in the set and in the performers’ sparing use of space.
Another thing this performance organises incredibly well is audience interaction. The setup of a lesson on sex education is a wonderful means of establishing an audience-performer relationship, with the audience naturally being the pupils and the performers being the teacher. Interaction is consistent throughout as the audience are directly addressed, and this culminates in a spectacular scene involving audience participation: ‘pin the clitoris on the vulva’. That the audience member should take the finished makeshift vulva collage home with them is a wonderful sensationalist element to include.
This brings me to props. Theatrical properties are simple and bland items, from wooden spoons to bundles of yarn, and this is most effective both in generating that sense that these ‘sexperts’, lacking in professionalism and formal experience, have no idea what they are doing and in producing a cheap and laughable aesthetic that serves to facilitate the performance as opposed to glamourising it needlessly. I particularly enjoy the chaos these props help to facilitate, as well: by the end of the performance, the floor of the stage is completely littered with them, with props even overflowing out onto the floor of the house. I would just recommend not throwing the heavier props, such as shoes, towards the audience so directly.
Costume, on the other hand, is debatable. The first costume Lill and Lila both wear — a lab coat, a white shirt and trousers — is congruous and facilitative, but the pyjamas are thorny for me… That the two performers should discard their clown noses and take off their formal attire implies that we are about to experience the characters more intimately and that they will be better relatable, more humanised and less like clowns perhaps. This is not the case; nothing changes with the personae we are presented nor with the comedy we receive. The lead-up feels far too promising…but to no avail. I understand that the creatives wished to communicate with this costume change the comforts we associate with pyjamas when menstruating, but this can simply be communicated by removing the lab coat and putting on a dressing gown alone, without removing the nose or any significant items of clothing. And the props of hot chocolates and hot water bottles would also remain useful here. Doing this would be far less time-consuming and would communicate the very same message. I say ‘less time-consuming’ because this undressing sequence, as comical as it might be, takes far too long – the entire duration of the song, ‘Make Me Feel’ by Janelle Monáe, in fact. I would also note that this undressing sequence naturally sexualises the two performers, and this sexualisation is not something we have seen before nor something we will see again in Sex(y) Ed. So, there is a sense of discontinuity here, too. On another note, throwing an item that has been worn on your nose towards the audience during a pandemic should perhaps be reconsidered…
Nevertheless, Worden and Robirosa demonstrate great talent, both where theatremaking and performativity are concerned. Energy and vitality are faultless, and the two demonstrate good conviction. I do have a few negatives, however, which leads me to the rating I give below. I would like to see a degree more of corporeal expressivity from the two performers. I think the decision to humanise these clowns, as opposed to presenting a bouffon or a harlequin, for example, and to naturalise movement and behaviour is an effective and intelligent decision; it allows for the absurdity of the material to shine through. I would just like to see an accentuation of emotion and expression — particularly facial expression. At times, with the repetitive structure I mentioned above, there is sometimes a sense that the material is carrying the performers, as opposed to performers relying on their own talent and not just on the content they have devised.
I would particularly like to see some more physicality and tonal variation in the songs. These are performed slightly too monotonously – NB: I recognise and appreciate the nonchalance and unspiritedness of this delivery, and this is not what I refer to when I say monotony; I refer solely to tone, not to emotion, mood or expressivity. Otherwise, vocal expressivity is practically perfect, especially when the two performers deliver the same lines with uncertainty, deliberately just out of sync. This is not easy to do well and comedically, but these performers do a glorious job, with their conspicuous lack of simultaneity echoing well the sense of chaos and degradation we find elsewhere in this performance.
There is a degree more conviction and certitude coming from Worden, I must admit, and I wonder if this is deliberate, with Lill labelling herself as ‘the actual’ sexpert whilst Lila labels herself ‘the best’. I would re-examine this, for either it should be far better emphasised that Lill is, indeed, the leader of our ‘session’, or Lila’s presence and inclusion should really be made to equate Lill’s. Currently, their functions in this performance are far too similar to warrant this disparity in conviction. This is important to note because this persists almost throughout — ignoring the Goldilocks scene, for the first half of which Robirosa takes the lead — with Worden leading these out-of-sync deliveries as well as being the lead performer in the verbatim scene, for example. Whilst on the topic of the verbatim scene, I would recommend that both performers face the same way. Whilst their chairs are facing the audience, Worden delivers her lines almost exclusively to the audience whereas Robirosa delivers hers to Worden. This should be re-examined as well.
I would recommend that Worden and Robirosa each work more on developing a sense of character for this performances — and perhaps for future performances too. Perhaps studying Lecoquian bouffons, for example, and developing characters accordingly, then reining them in to better reflect their current/desired performance style would benefit these creatives, if this is something they have not already explored. As it stands, the material is hilarious, but the duo lack a significant sense of marked identity and relationship to one another. It should be clear, for example, why exactly why one is ‘the best’ and the other is ‘the actual’ sexpert, amongst other items. Clearly, the creatives wish to communicate some kind of competition, which is even present in the promotional photograph featured in this review, but this does not come through at all in performance beyond the opening scene.
Overall, a hilarious and spectacular performance with great spirit and character.