I was lucky enough to meet with the writer and director of a new production entitled, ‘Sex Education’. With such an intriguing title, I wondered which category this would fit into at the fringe: was it a comedy? A play? A part-lecture? All of the above? Well, the answer is that ‘Sex Education’ is a comedy set in a school. It explores teenage relationships and the ways in which the current generation is learning about sex. But for many of the characters, sex education is the last thing they’re worried about: one of the students needs to boost his grades to get into University; another is trying to avoid being suspended. We get to know them all and what’s important to them, whilst they practise putting condoms on carrots. The play, then, follows Rebecca, a gap-year student and aspiring teacher, who decides to go back to school to shadow some lessons. She observes a sex education class. Questioning the manner in which sex is being taught, she convinces the teacher to adopt a radical and daring approach.
The topic of feminism in relation to sexual relationships is clearly important to both writer and director. Cressida Peever, the writer of this bold new production, explains what inspired her to write the play: “I feel that we still live in a society that perpetuates sexism. For me, secondary school was the place that I learnt to conform to gender stereotypes because it was easy. I feel that drama is a great way of making a subject accessible to a wide audience, and it has a way of sticking with you long after the play has finished, keeping the conversation going.” Philipa Lawford, the director, believes the play’s main appeal is its ability to be comical without trivialising serious topics. While she was initially drawn to the play “because it is very funny. Cressida’s writing is really sharp and witty and the dialogue feels very natural”, she also points out that the play highlights the fact that, “according to the current government guidelines for sex education, schools are only required to teach about the male orgasm, not the female one, and discouraged to promote the idea of having sex for pleasure.”
I ask whether the pair felt a level of responsibility to tackle the gender-stereotyped way in which sex education is often taught. Cressida says, “I don’t think schools promote misogyny, but many don’t challenge it, which is just as dangerous. Of course, there are fantastic teachers already obliterating gender-stereotypes every day. But at the same time young people today are exposed to sexual content at a very early age, and many get their sex education first from the internet and pornography, much of which has a sexist – even misogynist – lens.” It’s clear that the aim of the show is not only to induce laughter but also to start a conversation about the matter. As Cressida says, “schools and parents alike should encourage their children to challenge everything; to be curious and questioning and never accept information blindly.” This play is a great first step in that direction.