Sometimes it’s hard to judge, to score with stars, and gather the words. Because the thing you see is its own fresh beast. So fierce in its delivery, so crafted and different … but that’s the game so here goes.
We’re in the cellar of The Glory, a popular Haggerston haunt. It’s dim and intimate. There’s dance music playing. The walls and pillars, the sofa on stage: all covered in plastic sheeting. It’s clear from the start that this is going to be some ride.
And suddenly we’re off. Dropped into the opening exchange between service provider and consumer: two men preparing for the reconstruction of a murder, an immersive experience that promises a climax for the paying victim. It’s hyper-real, stylised and strange. There’s a clipboard to gather customer response. There’s talk of marketing dreams. And there are, importantly, no names.
For the next hour we’ll be in the company of character ‘A’ and character ‘B’, as a very specific, violent and disturbing service is delivered. ‘A’ is almost machine: grey suit, grey pupils, grey heart. ‘B’ is muscled and giddy in his tight black sports gear. In the confines of this cellar, it’s clear from both of their faces that something is missing from the lives of these men. Possibly from their minds.
As sex worker ‘A’, Johnny Woo is a convincing monster. Logical and composed between the occasional bouts of violence. Even when some of his menace melts, we’re never completely sure if the thaw is just another tactic.
As sex customer B, Alexis Gregory is a tweaking nightmare. Lovely to look at, and something of a clap-back master, but a nightmare nonetheless. His performance is a tour-de-force, all glittering wide-eyes and appetite, pitched somewhere between a Grindr casualty and Finding Nemo’s Dory.
Alexis Gregory is also the writer of this piece and clearly a man of talent. There’s echoes of Ridley and Ravenhill, even Orton, in his words. But this is original stuff. Gregory’s lines ping. The laughter they generate is both knowing and nervous. He’s a writer that knows his targets: how violence has become a fetish, how fetish has become a market. And even if the energy is a little relentless, that’s fine. It’s the nature of this particular beast.
Robert Chevera directs, fresh from his stint on Vincent River, perhaps the most naturalistic of Phillip Ridley’s shockers. Here, his influence is easier to see and distinctly more theatrical. The pulse of the piece is fierce. He uses blackouts and space with a kind of devious glee. Only one moment hit a strange note for me, and that’s partly in the writing: a musical shift that didn’t quite land.
Billed as a ‘queer comic thriller’, Sex/Crime is all that it promises. The jokes and quips are regular, as are the beats in the constantly energetic story-telling. It’s most definitely queer, most definitely a little sexy. And it is thrilling. A thought-provoking and disturbing rush through the ghost train of today.
One tiny gripe. A very personal one. Extremes – satire, cynicism, perversity, murder – can shine a light on the ordinary and the delicate. Things like love, togetherness, compromise, intimacy. But this extremity can also keep you at bay. And so it was with me. In the closing scenes, I was left a little wanting. Yes, there was a surprising turn of events, and a satisfying denouement. But I left that Haggerston cellar craving a little more care and a little less clever. I missed the moment where I could truly feel for the future of either ‘A’ or ‘B’.
Of course, this isn’t a typical play, with everyday people and familiar ideas. To expect a reassuring way in to this world, some empathy, is like expecting a tiger to be more like a bear.
So I’ll be happy with the dazzle and provocation. Even if I missed that magic moment of human connection and understanding.
Cast: Jonny Woo, Alexis Gregory Direcctor: Robert Chevera Writer: Alexis Gregory
Theatre: The Glory, Haggerston Duration: 60 mins Performance dates: 9th – 28th April 2018