Sex with Strangers
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
February 11 – 21
Not surprisingly for anyone who saw its acclaimed, sold out 2014 season, “Sex with Strangers” featured prominently among recently announced Matilda Award nominees, receiving nods in the Best Leading Male and Female Actor categories, as well as being nominated for the Best Independent Production Award. And now, audiences can be delighted by its return to the Visy Theatre one last time before the production hopes to tour throughout Queensland.
Not much has changed in what is an utterly captivating show. During a blizzard, at a bed and breakfast in rural Michigan, older, obscure novelist Olivia (Veronica Neave) is trying to complete her second book. She is an average writer whose first book has been dismissed by three reviews, and a technology Luddite; conservative in nature, she loves the tactile nature and smell of books. Her world is rocked when celebrated (by the New York Times no less) Gen Y sex blogger Ethan (Thomas Larkin) arrives to work on writing the screenplay of his bestselling book. Ethan is everything Olivia isn’t: optimistic, technologically adept and full of swagger. And worst of all, his sexual memoir ‘Sex with Strangers’ has spent three years on the best seller list. (It’s not porn he reassures her, ‘it doesn’t have pictures).
She is too old to get it and he is too young to know she’s too old for him, yet despite their age difference and juxtaposing analogue and digital sensibilities, Olivia 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. Laura Eason’s writing is clever, succinct and humourous, making use of a dialogue that is sharply naturalistic and perfectly crafted for its characters.
Larkin and Neave 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, with each character being drawn out in a way that resists simplicity and gives a sense of authenticity to their story. The conviction of their performances is magnetic. Along with Flowers, Larkin has long been involved with the project and his investment is evident in his nuanced performance. Bold and brash with the bravado of youth, he is engrossing as the expressive, cheeky and confident Ethan.
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 with subtle lighting shifts and a dynamic soundscape, creating a warmly engaging and authentic world into which the audience voyeuristically observes the couple’s contemporary dilemmas. Seamless and cohesive, this is a work that shows dedication and attention to detail, even down to its characters’ authentic laptop use.
“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 their 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, which makes it entirely engaging and well worth the effort, whether as a show newbie or take 2 participant.