Ard (Raj Labade) is in a tough spot. He’s lost his job as a well-respected sports physio, his estranged father has passed away, and he’s questioning his sexuality. When a job interview at a metaphysical health spa in Bondi leads to an unexpected spark with the spa’s owner, Liraz (Catherine Văn-Davies), Ard decides to impulsively follow Liraz to South India on a tantric sex retreat (its not weird—she was Indian in a past life). Although initially affronted by the white people posing as gurus on Indian spirituality, Ard soon finds greater meaning in this trip through an unexpected connection to his late estranged father.
Sex Magick, a new comedy by Nicholas Brown about sex, masculinity, queerness and South-Asian Australian identity, premiered at Griffin Theatre Company last week as part of WorldPride, co-directed by Brown and Declan Greene (Griffin’s Artistic Director).
Brown’s script seems split between two different goals, resulting in two slightly disjointed acts. The first act focuses on satirising how non-Indian people (particularly white people) butcher and capitalise off of Indian spiritual practices in the name of wellness. The second act is more hard-hitting, exploring Ard’s relationship to his father, and comparing both men’s relationship to queerness in their respective cultures: 2023 Australia and 1990 South India. I enjoyed both acts for different reasons— the satirical commentary on wellness culture was very witty, and I was very moved by Labade’s performance of Ard struggling to comes to terms with the realisation that his memory of his childhood might not have been entirely accurate— however it did feel like a slightly disjointed script overall.
The ensemble of six brought a brazen humour to the stage, and didn’t shy away from the more provocative content (viewers be warned: this production includes a fair amount of nudity and simulated sex). I particularly enjoyed the highly athletic performance of Raj Labade and Mansoor Noor and the scene where they recreated a Kathakali training session (a form of classical Indian dance).
Co-Directors Brown and Greene have delivered a high-energy provocative production which can be at times a lot of fun, and at times quite overwhelming. It would have been easier for this production to tip into insufferable levels of chaos, however Brown’s script just about grounds the narrative in enough heart and depth that the play’s rapid pace and psychedelic transitions don’t feel too shallow.
The co-directors, aided by sound and lighting designers, have delivered an immersive, sensory overload of a production, that is less concerned with what is actually going on in the story, and more concerned with how it feels. Crucial to the show’s ability to jump across countries and timelines is Kelsey Lee’s audacious lighting design, which elevated the production away from reality. Similarly, Mason Browne’s deceptively simple set design— a row of lockers that you might find in Liraz’s spa, or a rugby changing room— appeared to create a realistic world on the surface, but are used in creative ways to add to the otherworldly nature of Ard’s journey. In contrast, the use of live cameras (with video design by Solomon Thomas) felt unnecessary and didn’t add much to the production.
Brown and Greene have created a bold and brash story that combines social satire with a deeper reflection on masculinity and queer love across Australian and Indian cultures, although those two story elements aren’t weaved together as effortlessly as they could have been. If you like your theatre provocative, risqué and loud, this is the show for you.