Front Line

The proper teaching of sex education remains a rather thorny topic, and this one-woman comedy-drama with songs positions itself to probe some of the more profound issues of this field. How do sex and love intersect? How far are relationships compromised by the individual's confinement in their own perception? Musician-cum-actress Elyssa Vulpes plays Sophia, a Croatian sex-ed high school counsellor ironically unlucky in love and fretting about how such questions affect both herself and her students.

The show as a whole feels ill-focused, its structure consisting of a succession of meandering and clumsily acted skits

The show, though well-intentioned, is weighed down by its triteness. The figure of the 40-something year old singleton, unlucky in love and pouring her heart out to her cats is tediously familiar - the production even explicitly name-checks Bridget Jones - and the show’s early attempts to mine whimsical humour from this stock character fall depressingly flat, failing to elicit more than the odd titter of sympathy.

To call the monologues clunky would be charitable (sample dialogue: “Life can't be a Mills and Boone novel, eh? I am not a princess supermodel”). The show as a whole feels ill-focused, its structure consisting of a succession of meandering and clumsily acted skits, and disparate scenes from Sophia’s life, all culminating in a parade of songs featuring hackneyed chord progressions and such earth-shattering lyrics as “the night is darkest just before the dawn”. This fractured structure hinders the show from picking up any kind of momentum and prevents it from fully exploring some of the (sporadically interesting) questions it poses.

Vulpes, though required to involve the audience in her discussion of the intricacies of relationships, lacks the necessary improvisatory spark to engage with a number of impressively witty audience members. A somewhat uneasy stage presence, particularly in the earlier scenes in the show, her delivery is slow and rather sing-song, her acting style frustratingly hammy and over-egged.

The production is somewhat redeemed, however, by a few solid final scenes, in which we begin (too late) to understand how Sophia's experience as a child of the Bosnian War both has informed and developed her attitude to love and relationships. A final scene involving a mock school assembly is competently written and successfully executed and the production even manages to end with a half rousing singalong. More of this sort of exploration of the connection between the national and the personal would have made for an interesting piece, but a far more capable team would have been needed to pull it off.

Reviews by Joe Spence


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The Blurb

A Croatian refugee has made a new life for herself as an offbeat high school counsellor who teaches sex education. She discovers her inner wisdom as she faces issues of romance, sexuality, and self-doubt whilst reconciling her troubled past. An original one-woman musical play exploring the power of truth as a means of transcending personal and universal challenges into ‘agape’ (unconditional love). Self-effacing comedy, audience interaction and the play’s light hearted songs by Elyssa Vulpes uplift the spirit, leaving us feeling hopeful in our capacity to find a more positive future for ourselves.