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Atlantis

"There is a degree of pain involved"

A stick-figure version of the Kama Sutra inspires one of 2017's most memorable onstage scenes.

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Show: Atlantis
Company: Belvoir
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What your mother never told you: The Reverse Jane Fonda

Date: 23 Nov 2017

“Greatest Sex Scene Ever” tweeted Kate Miller-Heidke after seeing a joyously bouncy montage of sex positions in Belvoir’s production of Lally Katz’s play Atlantis set to the pumping beats of the Vengaboys’ We Like to Party! (The Vengabus).

For actors Amber McMahon and Hazem Shammas, building the scene began with studying a chart of sex positions from the Kama Sutra represented as stick figures brought into the rehearsal room by choreographer Sara Black.

“We tried all the positions and then tried to make them even more ridiculous by exaggerating them,” Black says. “It was very collaborative and fun, everyone put their two cents in.”

Choreography sessions took place each Monday morning before the other actors arrived for rehearsals. “Amber and I hadn’t worked together before so we just had to go for it, like good sports, just humping away to figure out which positions were the funniest,” says Shammas. “Some of them were kind of impossible. We weren’t flexible enough. It was hard to believe all the positions in the chart were real. I really can’t see how you would … connect at all in some of them.”

Each position has been given a name. The Jane Fonda involves McMahon on the floor with straight legs scissoring Shammas. The Reverse Jane Fonda is the same but with Shammas facing her feet. “The Reverse Jane Fonda is particularly taxing,” McMahon says. “There is a degree of pain involved. We didn’t have to work out facial expressions, they just came naturally. Each one is a different level of fatigue and joy and discomfort and blissing out.”

In The Superman, Shammas lifts McMahon from behind while she punches the air with her fists. The Chair is a bizarre variation on the bicycle exercise move. The final position of the montage is dubbed Atlantalingus.

“That was a funny one to rehearse,” Shammas says. “We figured out the most stable way for us to execute the move was for Amber to not worry about me, grab my head and smash my nose into her pelvic bone as hard as possible. Just really get in there. That was steady and stable for us, and she could shout and cheer and celebrate the moment.”

McMahon says she does worry about for her colleague’s safety sometimes.

“The poor guy, I have to jump on his face in the dark and hope for the best. I’m always asking him, how’s your neck?” she says. “And he’s like fine, fine, fine. He is copping a few close shaves, shall we say.”

McMahon says audiences have gone wild for the scene, particularly the small moment of quiet where the pair stop what they’re doing for eight counts and meditate. “We did a school show the other day and during the sex sequence, these boys stood up and just cheered,” McMahon says. “It was a spontaneous uncontrollable leaping to their feet. It was so lovely, they were just so taken with it.”

Is any of this onstage craziness even remotely sexy?

“It is the most unsexy scene to do but it’s also a huge amount of fun,” says Shammas. “It’s a crowd pleaser, it’s a winner.”

McMahon adds that the scene in no way reflects the realities of Katz’s own sex life. “This was just our gift to her,” she laughs.

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