31 January 2017

Sex with Strangers at Hampstead Theatre was LaButesque in a good way

Sometimes the way that I choose to pick which plays to go to confuses even me. For Sex with Strangers there was not one thing that made me go, rather it was an accumulation of small things including respect for Hampstead Theatre, intrigue at the title and the chance to see Theo James who played Four (that's a name) in Divergent (a young adult science fiction film that I quite like).

One of the things that I like about Hampstead Theatre is that everywhere that I've sat I've had a good view and that has encouraged me towards the back of the theatre into the cheaper seats where N18 cost me £28.

Hampstead Theatre had stopped doing full meals and I had not found anywhere else to go nearby so I settled for my usual sandwich and craft beer, which was fine.

The stage was set as a rather dated living room. I took this to be 1970's UK but it turned out to be contemporary USA in one of those rural areas that style has not got to yet. This was a retreat for two authors one, an early middle-aged woman had been there for a while and she was joined by a man in his late 20s. As they introduced themselves to each other we learned that she was a teacher with writing ambitions and he had been in the best sellers lists for a couple of years with his somewhat salacious and factual book Sex with Strangers but was trying to become a serious author.

The rest of the play was all about them and they were the only people that we saw, though we saw them in more than one location and at more than one time.

Trying to simplify the situation without giving too much of the story away; the man was clearly somewhat unpleasant in his recent past, as writing a factual account of your life called Sex with Strangers suggests, but the question was how much he had changed. And had he changed enough to form a proper relationship with the woman, to write a worthy book and to not exploit the written works of others. I am not sure that the questions was answered but then I would not say if it was.

The structure of the play was just the two people talking which made me think of a couple of Neil LaBute plays, In a Forest Dark and Deep and The Mercy Seat, and the subject matter reminded me of another of his plays, Some Girl(s). That is a compliment; I like Neil Labute and he himself built on the traditions of the likes of O'Neil and Ablee. It was actually written by Laura Eason who is probably most famous now for her involvement with House of Cards.

Making the dialogue work and the relationship fizz, Emilia Fox and Theo James did a superb job. The play sparkled and captivated as a result.

Sex with Strangers, apparently, will be one of the was one of the Top Ten most produced plays in 2015/16 and I could see why that could be true. It is a simple enough play to put on in terms of staging and casting and it is rich in content. And I liked that simplicity of presentation and complexity of content (that's the right was round).

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