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REVIEW: My Private Parts | Reginald Theatre, Sydney

What to expect when you’re hoping to be expecting: Deborah Thomson writes and stars in a generous musical comedy that has plenty of heart and soul.

Deborah Thomson in My Private Parts | Reginald Theatre

It’s fertile ground. One woman’s story of her efforts to get a bun in the oven, before it’s too late. Sex alone just won’t cut it. She wants to bring some science to bear (no pun intended). This ode to IVF involves self-discovery (well, masturbation), a sense of humour and even a live band, for this is a (chamber) musical, as you do. Written by Deborah Thomson and performed by same, accompanied by Lucy Miller. Brendon McDonall and James Beach direct the comedy, while John Short directs the music.

No credit is afforded the set designer, so I’m assuming it’s a Thomson-Miller collaboration; but whosoever designeth it, deserves a good deal of credit for underlying wit, as well as execution. First of all, there’s a pervasive proto-Women’s Weekly, Mixmaster, ’50s aesthetic. Polka dots. Doris Day sings Que Sera, Sera in the background. Centre stage, a life-size portrait of a nude Marilyn, but with a microwave where her womb should be. And what at first glance looks like era-appropriate wallpaper reveals itself as having a spermatozoan motif; bespoke, one presumes, rather than off-the-rack. As we entered the theatre, took our seats and got settled, the pair posed for imaginary stills, after the style of advertising of the Madmen period.

It all sounds like an rib-tickling hoot, and it is, but My Privates is grounded in truth and real life isn’t always replete with fairytale endings. Thomson has documented the systematically depersonalising regime, which starts with passionless sex with purely procreative objectives. After all, that biological clock ticks relentlessly; mercilessly.

Apart from anything else and though explicated in the most absurd possible way, My PP is a kind of everything you always wanted to know about in vitro, but were afraid to ask, for fear of looking ignorant. In fact, much of the technical detail lost me a little, since, for better or worse, I’ve no abiding interest in the subject. After all, while it’s of paramount concern to those going through it, it’s disingenuous to pretend the rest of us have much truck with the subject.

Sticking with its serious side for a moment, I was surprised to see the question of a woman’s self-worth and fulfilment even being discussed as possibly contingent upon motherhood. I thought we’d moved on from that kind of thinking a long time ago. (Even Mr Rabbit. Well, maybe.) This, too, stood in naked contrast to the ribaldry, brashness and coarseness of the humour. Don’t take your maiden aunt to see this one, if she understands it, she might take umbrage at mouthfuls of Dairy Whip masquerading as ejaculate; or saliva-soaked jelly babies (later microwaved to a frothing sugar syrup) standing in for embryos.

It’s damned clever, jam-packed with Carry On innuendo and (wink, wink; nudge, nudge!) and the songs are entertaining but, perhaps because of the intimacy of the venue (Seymour’s downstairs Reginald Theatre), the requisite quotient of vitality is never really achieved, despite the effervescence of the performers and their best efforts. For whatever reason, neither performer looked completely confident. To be honest, I think it had a lot to do with a lack of responsiveness on our part. That its, the audience. The necessary energy exchange didn’t take place; the contract was broken. And it needs a bigger venue, so the material can be made larger and louder; if only the economics would allow it.

Thomson, in her appearance, demeanour and comic disposition, puts me in mind of another fine actor and comedienne in Denise Scott, showing no less flair for a pithy or risqué line. Miller’s early nervousness was betrayed by a slight and wholly uncharacteristic lack of diction, by dint of too-fast delivery, which obscured some lines, but her presence was easily justified by her lascivious Nurse Jenny characterisation and her all-round versatility. Neither woman is necessarily a natural-born singer, yet they exhibit surprising strength in that department; harmonies are particularly luscious

My Private Parts is laudable for its very personal courage, its heart, soul, spirit and generosity, to say nothing of the presence of two of this country’s most gifted female performers.

The details: My Private Parts plays the Reginald Theatre at Seymour Centre until November 17. Tickets on the venue website.

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