Theatre Review: 44 Sex Acts in One Week (Sydney Festival) ★★★1/2

Imagine if an employee of Goop had to road test everything their boss spouted. In one week. That’s the conundrum Celina (Emma Harvie) faces in David Finnigan’s 44 Sex Acts in One Week. She’s a contract writer for a lifestyle clickbait site and she’s in need of cash. When she volunteers to review her influencer boss’s new book, 44 Sex Acts That will Change Your Life, she has to perform each and every act mentioned in seven days to hit her deadline and avoid being evicted.

After a successful run at Belvoir in 2020, this blend of cabaret, live radio play, and theatre returns for the 2022 Sydney Festival. It’s a veritable orgy of innuendo and awkward exchanges as the straitlaced Celina convinces a colleague to join her in a seemingly clinical, non-stop, ambisexual fuckfest.

Priscilla Doueihy and Matt Hardie in 44 Sex Acts in One Week. Photo by Brett Boardman.

44 Sex Acts… is chaotic, messy, and a hell of a lot of fun. With live sound effects produced by an ingenious mix of tools (a rusty ironing board replicates a warehouse door, a cantaloupe melon mimics the sounds of cunnilingus… you get the idea), playwright David Finnigan pulls a sleight of hand; the play isn’t about sex and relationships at all, it’s an unlikely tale of ecology and environmental activism. It’s an odd double act to watch; a bawdy sexual romp that weaves a post-apocalyptic story into the narrative.

The show is anchored by Harvie’s performance as the stressed out Celina. Struggling to pay rent, her review forces her out of her comfort zone to find her power in an unlikely way. Paired with the lovable Matt Hardie, the office mailboy who agrees to be the other half of the sexploration, Celina softens her edges and may even start falling for him. Has her boss’s sham book actually managed to change her life? When they add more people to engage in group and same-sex fun, things get more outrageous.

Rebecca Massey in 44 Sex Acts in One Week. Photo by Brett Boardman.

The show is stolen by Rebecca Massey who gets to be riotously funny as Celina’s ethically sloppy influencer boss (clicks and likes are more important to her than reality). A failed real estate agent who rebounded from a failed relationship to fake her way as a lifestyle influencer for women, she gets to throw out the lion’s share of scathing one-liners as she delivers a pseudo-TED Talk to the audience. 

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the environmental themes kick in, I won’t ruin the third act’s surprises, but it’s a unpredictable turn that somehow manages to tie the whole thing together.

44 Sex Acts in One Week is a tight, sex-positive, funny one-act play that’ll give you a good time, without a doubt. Definitely worth watching, but seeing as it’s playing in the cavernous Seymour Center, I’d definitely recommend sitting close to the front… but maybe not the FRONT row, unless you’re okay with getting juice on your face.

By Chad Armstrong

44 Sex Acts in One Week plays Sydney’s Seymour Center until January 16th 2022 as part of the Sydney Festival. Head to the Sydney Festival website for more details and to book tickets.

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