>THE SEX EDUCATION PARTY by The Necessary Stage

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 23 feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the black box, the necessary stage
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


No alcohol. No drugs. No sex. No alcohol. Just what kind of a party was that? Ok, wait a minute - there was sex. But what kind of sex could it possibly have been, I hear you moan? Well, the fact that this was not a R(A) play says a lot. After all, THE SEX EDUCATION PARTY (TSEP) is part of the M1 Youth Connection, an annual festival of theatre for young people organised by The Necessary Stage. The target audience is thus definitely for those under eighteen, i.e. mainly sexual minors.

Upon hearing the title of the play, questions would have crossed your mind. A party that educates - can it be any fun? A play about sex targeted at young Singaporeans -- can it be anything but a tedious mouthpiece of the government's position (sorry about the pun) on sex and sex education (especially with the recent introduction of sex education in schools and the fact that the National Youth Council and the National Arts Council are some of the sponsors for the show)?

Well to answer the first question, party was spelt with a capital 'P' with Hossan Leong as the host. His quick wit and self-effacing charm got the audience into the groove with his jokes, antics and 'sex' questions. In fact, it says a lot that he was the most memorable and dominant personality on stage that evening, compared to the less interesting characters in the play. Meanwhile, DJ Tony Tay from Zouk was in the house to spin tracks during the intervals when the audience was invited to get jiggy with it in the open space of the Black Box. (For those under eighteen reading this review and are interested to know what happens inside a discotheque, the DJ maestro is on till midnight - so get tickets if you can for the show this weekend and tell your parents you are going to appreciate ART while you actually get down with it.)

>>'As a play that hopefully will open up a greater debate and discussion as to the parameters of sex education, it was good - yet like sex and sexuality education in Singapore, it still has some way to go.'

As for the second question, to her credit, the young playwright - eighteen year old Jane Pek - based her play on an interesting premise. In the future where cloning is the means of reproduction, relationships are illegal, sex is a sin and prevention the one true path to enlightenment. To ensure that Singaporeans follow this path, the State has employed the Sex Heroes to maintain such a code of conduct - these four characters in their floral print costumes try to save Singapore with a dash of cartoon kookiness and sprinkle of slapstick. But once hormones start to kick in, crushes and love triangles develop among the Sex Heroes, and questions as to whether the state or the self is the most reliable and authentic site for a discourse on sex and sexuality starts to develop.

As an ensemble, the characters lacked the necessary chemistry and charisma to convincingly portray themselves as a group of super heroes out to save the day -- though both Melody Chen and Elaine Cheah had a wonderful sense of comic timing and flair. Meanwhile, the use of music was spot-on, with a mix of Radiohead, Britney, Kylie and Destiny's Child. And it is to the credit of director Jeffrey Tan that the space in the Black Box was well used, with the audience often literally caught between the arguments of the characters, between the Self and the State.

(On a side note, I understand that the reference to Westlife and three-room HDB flats was meant to be tongue in cheek and that as an audience, we are supposed to suspend our disbelief with regard to such inaccuracies. But if Westlife are still as big in the far future as they are now, someone please shoot me -- or them -- right now.)

Yet while the dialogue and plot structure might appeal to the target audience of teenaged students, this could not be said for a more mature crowd. There wasn't the cleverness or the ironic knowing-ness, as say in a cartoon like 'The Power Puff Girls', which is able to entertain regardless of age.

Moreover, what was disconcerting about the performance was that it could not contain what appeared to be two different discourses at work. On the one hand, there was what appeared to be the government's current stand on sex education - with its simplified and reductive take on sex and sexuality. This 'official' discourse was set in conflict with the 'unofficial' one, with its anti-State, reified rhetoric that one presumes is from the more liberal and progressive playwright and theatre company. And what was interesting was that the play initially appeared to take on the official discourse, though this gave way to the unofficial one with its rant on the need for individual autonomy. Meanwhile, the questions asked by Hossan Leong during the intervals, appeared initially to be generally subversive -- i.e. of the 'unofficial' kind; yet at the end, it appeared that the answers he was looking were of the 'official' kind which had only one correct, standard answer. Which is fine for a government policy, but you know as I do, discourses of sex and sexuality are never as simple as that - and to shield teenagers from such complexity is to deny them in part their sex education. In fact, it was telling that to answer some of the questions posed by Leong, students simply repeated the words from the Protector, who in the play represented the rigid State. In the end, not only was the play unable to form a satisfactory and vital alternative to sex education in Singapore, it appeared that all it could only do was to dimly articulate a small point of resistance.

How was it for me then, you ask? As a play that hopefully will open up a greater debate and discussion as to the parameters of sex education, it was good - yet like sex and sexuality education in Singapore, it still has some way to go.