Sex with Strangers
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
July 17 – 26
“Sex with Strangers” comes with a warning: “may contain material not suitable for children or those with a clean web browsing history”, for beyond its titillating title, Laura Eason’s play is an examination of interpersonal politics and relationships in the modern age, where we’ve gone from valuing intimacy to willingly sharing practically every detail.
During a blizzard, at a bed and breakfast in rural Michigan, older, gifted but obscure novelist Olivia (Veronica Neave) is trying to complete her second book. She is a technology Luddite; conservative in nature, she loves the tactile nature and smell of books. Her world is rocked when bold and brash Gen Y sex blogger Ethan (Thomas Larkin) arrives. Ethan is everything she isn’t: optimistic, technologically adept and full of swagger. And worst of all, his sexual memoir has spent three years on The New York Times’ best seller list.
Despite their age difference, Olive soon succumbs to Ethan’s obvious sexual charms. What follows is a fast-paced and compelling exploration of the clash of public and personal as their core worlds collide. The writing is clever, succinct and humourous, showcased in realistic dialogue and a narrative that is never fully predictable.
Larkin and Neave, who worked together in 2012’s Queensland Theatre Company production of “Romeo and Juliet” are completely credible in both intimacy and conflict as Ethan and Olivia. The two actor piece leaves nowhere for them to hide and, under the direction of the multi-award winning Jennifer Flowers, they certainly deliver the goods. Even the accents are right to be largely unnoticeable, which is a rare achievement.
Along with Flowers, Larkin has long been involved with the project and his investment is evident in his nuanced performance. Indeed, he is engrossing as the cheeky, smugly confident, but layered Ethan, bringing to his part a combination of energy, angst, moodiness and impulsiveness.
However, great performances like these do not exist in a vacuum. And this is what makes “Sex with Strangers” such a joy. The set is beautifully textured and lit with nuance, creating an authentic world into which the audience voyeuristically observes the couple’s contemporary dilemmas.
Not only are its fundamentals flawlessly executed, but “Sex with Strangers” tells a compelling story. Although there are adult themes and sexual content, these are not gratuitous. Rather, the sexual encounters that punctuate many of Act One’s scenes are choreographed interplays, presented to pulsating music and lighting as hyper-reality breaks from the cosiness of the snowstormed cabin world.
“Sex with Strangers” is not a play about sex or even the relationship between a younger man and an older woman. Rather, it is a look at the effect of the digital age on the concepts of public and private selves, for as the opening line so prophetically asks, “who are you?”