Sex with Strangers is currently playing at The Wharf Theatre, it runs until November 24th and if you are in Sydney, and have ANY common sense or sense of humour, you’ll get yourself down there.
The play by Laura Eason is the unlikely story of a sexual entanglement between two writers, Olivia, a publishing unknown but would-be author of high brow literature and Ethan, a blogger-made-bestseller whose master piece is an online account of his prolific sexual life – Sex with Strangers. The two meet in a writer’s retreat, secluded and virtually snowed in, no phones, no internet, and they click. The interplay of his success (financial at least) and her ambition, a 10 year age gap, her private nature and his public persona all come together to produce an original, dynamic relationship. It’s refreshing to see characters who are so human- both are intelligent, driven, sexy, and Olivia retains her independent character despite the devilish wiles of her handsome counterpart.
The show was a little slow off the mark but the two actors, Jacqueline McKenzie and Ryan Corr have such chemistry on set that my misgivings soon disappeared and I was completely drawn in. The set is beautifully put together; with artfully stacked books and soft furnishings the living room settings were complimented by a thrust stage that made the audience feel intimately involved in the relationship evolving below (kudos to designer Tracy Grant Lord). Technology was also seamlessly threaded into the performance with great literary quotations by the likes of Hemingway beamed onto the back wall during scene changes. The costumes however did leave much to be desired, what were they thinking putting the elegant Ms McKenzie in beige polonecks and shapeless dresses?! Fortunately this didn’t detract all that much from the rest of the action but it was a shame given how well put together the rest of the show was.
In the hands of Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, and from the mouths of McKenzie and Corr, the script leapt off the page, it was witty and feisty and the comic timing was impeccable- add the sex into the mix and even that was done tastefully without foregoing a delightful amount of crudeness. For more of a taste of Laura Eason’s writing try this blog post of hers about the show.
Overall it’s a great laugh and many of the broader themes of trust, our personas in a digital age, and the way we value the written word (oh yes book lovers, there are quotes and references and e-books galore) linger with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
I can’t help but pause a moment on the character of Ethan Strange, who has made a name and a fortune for himself out of his vivid accounts of sex with women he’s met in bars. Olivia accuses him of using these girls, the self professed arsehole responds that he is the one being used, he tells them who he is and what he does and these girls want the fame and the references and use his blog to jump start their own careers. The man we see on stage, is fun and charismatic and disarmingly charming, he is loveable, and he is wonderful to Olivia, and you can’t help but like him. And then you hear a little of how he speaks of and views women beyond the bubble of his affair with Olivia. How do you as a viewer- or as Olivia!- divorce that from the person he’s created for the public, the man who demeans women and celebrates having sex with women so drunk he’s left them in a puddle of their own puke. You can’t really can you? I don’t care if he turned out to be Prince Charming I wouldn’t go near the likes of him with a barge poll (real-life examples might including Tucker Max and ChateauHeartiste).
But Ethan is allowed a more complex character and new facets emerge in a man shaped by Olivia. I suppose it’s a credit to the writer, and to Corr’s performance, and perhaps my weakness for an individual willing to ‘change’, that in the end we never the less root for Ethan…
Sex With Strangers
Wharf I Theatre
Hickson Rd, Sydney CBD
28 September – 24 November
Mon 6.30pm; Mon 24 Sep 8pm; Tue – Sat 8pm; Wed matinee 1pm; Sat matinee 2pm
Saturday Eve $79
Australian Full Time Student – Must show ID $60
Unemployed – Must show ID $60
Under 30 – Must show ID $40