It's easy to see why Nathan Joe's riffs on teenage relationships won last year's Playmarket Playwrights b4 25 award: the linked scenarios are well-written, perceptive insights into often pressurised explorations of exciting, scary, loaded sexuality.
And this enjoyably stylised production (co-produced by Nathan Joe and Jordan Keyzer for Exposed Theatre, which will focus on producing work for new graduates) is excellent. Themes like betrayal, coercion, homophobia, regret and rejection are taken seriously but examined with a light touch.
People are mean to each other (post-teen audiences won't leave wishing they could relive their adolescence) but nobody cries on stage. Group physicality emphasises the social context: high school sex here seems more about communicating a certain image to a group and self-identity than it is about intimacy.
The ensemble is bright, energetic and polished. In the most amusing moment, they act out Cosmo-like sex advice while humming a highly inappropriate tune. At another point, sex is symbolised by two people high-fiving with biscuits in their palms while the chorus watch with their tongues hanging out; then they all race to gobble up the crumbs from the floor. Sex is grist to the gossip mill: people and acts are judged, envied, desired.
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Enhanced vocals are having a heyday in the new Auckland theatre, and Tom Dennison's and Patrick William Kelly's microphones add interest and nuance: "It was my first time - it's not meant to feel good" insists one girl - in the voice of the boy she slept with. Zach Howells' quick-sharp lighting nicely changes the bare white square stage to a starry night for a rare moment of tenderness. The uniform costumes are fantastic: unisex pleated shorts.
The insidious hemline debate is nicely outlined as is the problem with slut-shaming. "I like sex - is that such a big deal?" one character wonders. Double standards are also highlighted by actors swapping roles and genders mid-conversation.
Wonderful, innovative, assured theatre for only $20. Recommended.
What: Like Sex
Where & when: Basement Theatre, until Saturday