Normally the idea of spending two hours listening to a group of over 65’s talk about their sex lives wouldn’t really appeal to me – in the same way it wouldn’t normally appeal to most people. It makes us uncomfortable in a way we usually excuse on a pretext surrounding our own grandparents, something like ‘I don’t want to think of my grandma doing it!’ It’s an odd justification. After all, talking about it with someone around your age doesn’t make you think of your sister or brother doing it. And if for no other reason than forcing us to confront our inner ageism, All the Sex I’ve Ever Had is worth the time.
The performance sees six locals – all over 65 and with no previous stage experience – take a trip down memory lane, starting from the year of their birth (the oldest participant, Beatrix, was born in 1936) and leading the audience through not only their lives and sexual exploits, but also the social and historical context of these adventures up to present day. In particular, Lionel 68, spoke to the progress of gay culture in Melbourne from a secret kept in St Kilda bathrooms, to our more open-minded acceptance today.
The script, written by Tina Fance, Alice Fleming and Director Darren O’Donnell, is adapted from four hour interviews conducted with each performer, taking them through every year of their life. Their anecdotes are then condensed into short, unadorned vignettes of only a sentence or two. It’s an intimate abridgment of their lives and loves, punctuated with both sexual encounters and personal tragedies. While the anecdotes are deeply personal and unique to the speaker, there’s something familiar about them, an allusion to or reflection of elements of your own life. The performance as a whole speaks to the human experience, to our vulnerability and our courage.
The simple format – a panel facing the audience taking turns to speak as the MC calls out the years – allows the performers and their stories to stand centre-stage. The Melbourne cast (Beatrix, Brenda, Lionel, Noel, Philip and Suzie) met three weeks before the performance and read their lines from a script, occasionally giving the audience a meaningful look or a wink. It was a touching and big-hearted performance: unguarded, funny, poignant and in places, sore. Occasionally, a speaker will throw a question out to the audience, the lights will come on and a microphone will get passed to someone with their hand up to share. It develops a real sense of community in the room, perhaps even a conspiratorial atmosphere.
Mammalian Diving Reflex, the Canadian-German theatre makers behind the production (and who also brought us Haircuts by Children at last year’s Melbourne Festival) is dedicated to investigating the social and makes a point to look out for contradictions to transform into thought-provoking experiences that speak to the universality of the human experience. To that extent, it would have been great if the panel had included more diversity than a single queer male and certainly, a person of colour would have had some interesting insights to add. Nonetheless, All the Sex I’ve Ever Had is a clever and rich experience and the perfect way to tackle your inner ageist.