Sex Education, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Meredith Jones Russell

A mixture of confessional monologues, recorded interviews, dance, music, and a hefty smattering of hardcore porn, Harry Clayton-Wright’s deliberately shocking, no-holds-barred, one-man show attempts to address how we learn about sex and how that education informs our wants, needs and desires for the rest of our lives.

In the auditorium from the moment the audience enters, Clayton-Wright commands attention even before the show has begun, sat Miss Havisham-like in a lacy wedding dress. He begins with a wedding speech dedicated to his mother, as he begins his exploration of his own sex education and relationship with sex that emerged as a result.

The show is built around an interview Clayton-Wright recorded with his mother, excerpts of which are played in between his monologues. They are the heart of the piece, bringing a touching compassion which nicely offsets the clips of porn, many starring Clayton-Wright himself, which we are shown at regular intervals throughout.

A fervent Christian, Clayton-Wright’s mother did not talk to him about sex as he was growing up, and in these recordings she even stops short of acknowledging exactly how she conceived her two children. However, her acceptance and tolerance of her son and his wildly different life is truly moving.

Clayton-Wright also breaks up his speeches with surreal moments including a mime performance to Last Christmas, a break for some cucumber sandwiches, and a dance wearing a rabbit’s head. It’s largely funny, but there’s a sadness and anger underlying it, mostly explained by a Powerpoint presentation documenting much of his sexual history.

The monologues in between these moments are the weakest parts. Delivered more like lectures than emotional outpourings, they could be a way of making the show feel more like literal, academic sex education, but they reduce the authenticity of the show. They also aren’t very funny – Clayton-Wright is much better off the cuff than he is delivering these long, scripted speeches. The interviews with his mother, in contrast, feel agonisingly, heartbreakingly genuine, and hold the real power of the piece.

Sex Education runs through 25 August in Edinburgh.

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