How far should parents go to provide for their child’s needs? What are life’s essential experiences? Should parents go to any lengths to make sure opportunities arise for kids to achieve their goals?
Imagine your son has a learning disability and, at the age of 25, feels deeply frustrated. He’s never had a girlfriend and all his mates at the local rugby club talk about one subject… sex. How can his mum and dad help him with that? And so we’re introduced to a loving London family’s predicament in Punts (produced by Kuleshov Theatre).
Dedicated housewife and mother Antonia (oozing middle-class angst, wonderfully conveyed by Clare Lawrence-Moody) has spent weeks deliberating on the best course of action together with her lawyer husband, Alastair (an uptight, comedic yet honest portrayal given by Graham O’Mara). Ultimately, Antonia’s decided that she should not only have a say in which socks and shirts her son Jack wears but also take control of exactly when, how and with whom he will lose his virginity.
Yes, Antonia’s picked a suitable prostitute on Punting UK for her son like she’s been casually browsing reviews on Yelp. Despite their fear of what the neighbours would say if the secret gets out, desperate for their son not to miss out on ‘becoming a man’, Antonia and Alastair have embarked on this plan of good intentions. As we join the action, tonight’s the night and Jack (Christopher Adams delivers an endearingly subtle performance with great comic timing) has agreed to the proposal. He’s convinced that it will boost his confidence with ‘real’ girls, even though the only real girl he’s fallen for to date is a Lloyds bank cashier.
A healthy dose of dark laughs guide us through the awkward tension as we meet Julia (intelligence and beauty shine from Florence Roberts’ sterling performance). She’s scored a healthy 4.8 / 5 for her sex work and is welcomed into the family home by a nervy Alastair, offering her a variety of teas. Wearing nothing but an overcoat and a skimpy negligee, Julia leaves Alastair’s glasses fogged up, and, evidently, it’s not just the kettle getting steamy tonight. At first Julia’s confident, she takes charge instructing both Alastair and then Jack in their appropriate behaviour for this unusual agreement.
Julia’s also a care worker, we later discover, and Jack’s ‘first time’ is sensitively directed, sparing too many blushes from actors and audience alike. Somewhat predictably, as the play unfolds, we realise how vulnerable Julia truly is underneath her bravado. We’re given glimmers of her ‘normal’ life beyond the label ‘sex worker’ revealing that she herself is barely an adult, doing her best to make her way in the world to support her own son. Is she really all that different to Antonia? A mother doing her best with the hand she’s been dealt.
The play was inspired and informed by writer Sarah Page’s interviews with sex workers and all of the women had, at some point in their career, worked with clients with disabilities. Page intends to explore whether sex is a human right. Should it be accessible to all, whether disabled or able-bodied? Despite being physically 25, Jack’s maturity level is revealed to be that of a 15/16-year-old. The idea of consent is addressed, but only briefly, which brought a feeling of unease. One can’t help but wonder whether if gender roles were reversed in this play, it’d garner reactions of horror from some quarters. Why is the pressure to ‘become a man’ through achieving sexual intercourse still such a fixation in society’s values? Page has raised the topic but left it open for debate.
Punts was selected from over 1,200 entries as a finalist for the international Nick Darke Writers’ Award 2016 and it’s clear to see why. It’s a bold subject that Page obviously found exhilarating to examine through the eyes of her characters. I only wished the stakes had been raised even higher for them, and, at times, Antonia and Alastair felt rather two-dimensional. Ultimately, though, this is Jack’s play. It’s his feelings that we’re interested in, not the warring factions that break out between Antonia, Alastair and Julia. Did Jack benefit from popping his cherry? Hardly. Sex is more than just a physical experience and even Jack, for all his learning difficulties and perceived ‘lack of understanding’ realises that.
Take a punt on this play and make up your own mind. Catch its run at Theatre503 until Saturday 24th June 2017.
Cast: Christopher Adams, Clare Lawrence-Moody, Graham O’Mara, Florence Roberts Director: Jessica Edwards Writer: Sarah Page Theatre: Theatre503 Performance Dates: 31st May – 24th June 2017