Sex Lives of Others

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Natasha Hyman

at 13:38 on 12th Aug 2013

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0disagrees

From its title I was expecting something, well, sexier. Instead I got a badly written play about a middle-aged couple’s obsession with sex and their unlikeable, horny neighbours. And it is Keely Winstone’s script that fundamentally doesn’t work; she is exploring some interesting topics, but in a way that is unrelatable.

The idea is that we are partial to two couples (one 20-something couple and one middle-aged), and their private conversations about sex. The space (Pleasance This) is claustrophobic, and perfectly creates a sense of voyeurism. However, the script and performance is more like a (particularly poor) Noel Coward play - it needs to aim for a minute scale, toning down the dialogue and acting considerably, in order to give the sense that we are intruding into these couples’ private moments.

There’s a problem with the premise of the play. The idea is that the two couples can hear each other from next door, however, this transforms itself into the older couple hearing the conversations of the younger couple as clear as day! Not only is this unrealistic, but Winstone misses an obvious trick: when Hilary and James hear Sonny and Kerry playing dirty boggle, I fully expected them to mishear or misconstrue the situation, however the comic potential of the scenario was left unexplored.

Joanna Bending as Hilary is playing to a much bigger space, this meant she came across as affected. Martin Miller as James is cringe-inducingly self-aware, any illusion of intimacy destroyed by him yelling ‘I want them to hear you scream!’ The younger couple comes with its own fair share of problems, Jessica Baglow as Kerry is significantly stronger than her partner Matt Green as Sonny. However the main problems with their characters are script-related: Winstone has tried too hard to make them into “we don’t care” twenty-somethings, which comes across as forced.

In terms of mistreatment of subject matter, a recurring joke about how people trivialise rape has the unintentional effect of trivialising rape. Gender issues also abounded: I couldn’t understand why these attractive and intelligent women were with their respective partners. Sonny is rude and completely uninterested in sex with Kerry. Hilary declares ‘you got the career, I got the third child’, as if they are mutually exclusive, and James insightfully describes the young peoples’ sex as sounding ‘like a feminist bowel movement’. I didn’t warm to these additions to the script.

In this context, the actual sex in the play wasn’t the worst part. The awkwardness of it was straightforwardly funny. I breathed a small sigh of relief in that they actually cut to the chase, instead of incessantly talking about it in an overwrought and tiring manner.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 17:20 on 12th Aug 2013

1agrees

0disagrees

‘Sex Lives of Others’ has an interesting premise – two couples who can hear each other through the walls theorise on the sexual practices going on behind closed doors. The script also has moments of promise, with the prevalent comedy brought out effectively by the actors. However, something about the performance doesn’t quite hang together. At some points it seems gratuitous and yet, simultaneously, boring.

Keely Winstone’s script is at its most interesting in the treatment of Hilary and James (Joanna Bending and Martin Miller): middle-aged and middle-class, when their children are away they are keen to prove they're still up to the task in bed. Their discussion of fetishes and how to share them with your partner is original and interesting fodder, particularly in showing the separation between sex life and real life, but any real exploration of this is replaced by gratuitous simulations; used more to titillate that to illustrate. The dialogue between Sonny and Kez, the young couple next door, frequently suffered from laborious cliché; too much of an attempt was made to make them sound ‘street’ in comparison to the fuddy-duddies next door, which ended in an unnatural and unrelatable portrayal.

The set nicely contrasts Sonny and Kez, permanently in bed, with Hilary and James reading the papers in their sitting room. It’s simply done, all actors remaining on stage throughout, emphasising the close living quarters that fuel each couple’s curiosity about the sex lives of next door. Jessica Baglow as Kez embodied her character with an understated naturalism that suffered from clunky lines. The first real emotion of the piece is evoked as she sits with tears in her eyes after an, admittedly funny, simulated blow-job where Sonny is more interested in Boggle than teabagging, asking him ‘what happened’ to the guy that used to want her.

Bending and Miller excel in their roles, the tense dialogue of facial expressions every time the phone rings speaks volumes, and Bending makes subtle comedy out of her passive aggressive sniping. However, the ‘pop culture’ seems a bit forced – references to Mumford and Sons, Carey Mulligan, Caitlin Moran’s Twitter feed, Mumsnet, and 50 Shades, follow each other in quick succession screaming: these are real people who share the same world as us and talk about the same things. Except they don’t.

Both couples in this play spend their time imagining what is going on next door, no doubt a question some people do ask each other, but some things are best left to the imagination. This production is simple and well-acted, but the lack of any real plot leaves it floundering. Fundamentally, as it turns out, I’m just not that interested in the sex lives of others.

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