Theatre review: Good Sex is chaotic, hilarious and profound

The actors in Emilie Pine's piece arrive on stage unrehearsed, and are directed via ear-pieces in a madcap framing 
Theatre review: Good Sex is chaotic, hilarious and profound

Cathal Ryan and Liv O'Donoghue in Good Sex by Dead Centre with Emilie Pine as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Picture: Ste Murray

Good Sex

Samuel Beckett Theatre (Dublin Theatre Festival)

★★★★★

“Theatre has a problem with sex. No one knows what they are doing,” begins Liv O’Donoghue, who hilariously plays an intimacy director in Dead Centre’s new show. Good Sex, then, announces itself as a piece of theatre about theatre. No surprises there. Dead Centre’s theatre is always about theatre. But it’s never just about theatre, either.

Here, the device of having two unrehearsed actors being walked through scenes involving two old flames reunited on a boozy, will-they won’t-they night during the pandemic soon grows into something beguiling, suggestive (in both senses), chaotic, hilarious and profound. A production that says little definitive, but invites contemplation about much: art, live experience, relationships, consent.

Cathal Ryan, Liv O'Donoghue and Maeve Bradley in Good Sex, at Dublin Theatre Festival. Picture: Ste Murray
Cathal Ryan, Liv O'Donoghue and Maeve Bradley in Good Sex, at Dublin Theatre Festival. Picture: Ste Murray

The two unrehearsed actors on first night are Aoibheann McCann and Rory Nolan. Via earpieces, they are directed by their alter egos, Alexandra Conlon and Barry McKiernan, whom we can see upstage in a sound booth. McCann and Nolan never hide their surprise, but settle into what must be somewhat unsettling very well, their assured movements giving a natural feel to the sex scenes and not-quite-sex scenes, even as the oblivious, overbearing intimacy director does her best to render them the opposite.

But opposition, contradiction, paradox and duality are what this show is all about. Writer Emilie Pine’s story is of the kind that asks us to care about fictional couples. Invest in them. Meanwhile, the playful fourth-wall-smashing structure around it prompts us to ask: why do we do this? And how do we collude in the pretense that it’s in some way real? At the same time, the actors are asked another question: how do you best fake all this?

Pine’s scenario, then, is not so much a play within a play, but a play within a madcap metatheatrical framing. It works as a jumping off point and anchor, both for the intimacy director to butt in and do her thing, and for the actual director, Ben Kidd, whose fierce, profound theatrical intelligence delivers a brilliant, vital piece of theatre.

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