The nature of self-hate is positioned as a strange bedfellow beside intimacy and chemically enhanced sex in this sharp, darkly entertaining two character thriller written by rising dramatist Alexis Gregory.
Borrowing from traditional cat and mouse thrillers, where power shifts as quickly as the characters’ boundaries, SEX/CRIME pulses with a bruising sexuality in a surreal staging by Robert Chevara, who is sensitive to the play’s poetry as well as its violent darker moods.
With furniture and walls covered in thick plastic, two gay men prowl through a libido led world with a buffet of drugs enhancing their impending sexual act. Danger permeates the neon lit air as Johnny Woo’s dominant character, named ‘A’, kicks and smacks ‘B’ to a self-loathing request, in a staging that owes as much to dance as to theatre. The choreographed violence lets the audience view the sorry state of the world today, without fearing for the actors’ safety.
As the play begins, we seem to enter in on a kind of hazy sex ‘transaction’. The character ‘A’ (Woo), wearing a tie and formal trousers, is selling an extreme fantasy – the recreation of several gruesome gay serial murders. Gregory’s character has a fascination with these, which leads him to some not very erotic on stage wanking, ramming his hand down his track suit bottoms. This, coupled with a bit of cheerful nudity in leather jock-straps, is about as naked as the writing gets. But it warms us up to the abstract, sexually debauched atmosphere of troubled men, full of murder fascination as a titillating thrill. As their greatest degradation is combined with sexual curiosity, it becomes especially harrowing when ‘A’ lists the ‘menu-options’ for ‘B’s’ ultimate fantasy of murder re-enactment, which could perhaps be his last?
We learn through flashback and some very skilled lighting design (Mike Robertson) that Woo once had feelings for a construction worker in a hi-vis jacket named Dark Minelli. Through well-handled character doubling (Gregory also plays Minelli), we learn that ‘A’ has a complicated past when it comes to intimacy and love, much like ‘B.’ In a fairy tale sequence that goes on far too long, the men share a piece of forbidden fruit ending with ‘A’ spitting it into ‘B’s’ face. The actors handle these difficult moments with ferocious commitment; their scenes in complete darkness are some of the play’s most frightening and funniest, as the rules of the scenario being constructed are reinforced, swapped and masked as the terms of their sexual contract brings them dangerously closer.
Both actors have distinct vocal qualities, and Johnny Woo shows an authoritative power as the feared ‘A’. Alexis Gregory, ‘B’, plays his younger, child-like self with sizzling athletic vigour and curiosity. They speak of seeking warmth, truth and security, and in the same breath joke about a ‘yummy mummy’ tripping over their dead bodies, in a play that speaks volumes about contemporary pain.
Audiences who know Johnny Woo from his Hackney performance venue, The Glory, will be impressed to see how good an actor he is – let’s hope the casting community notices how suitable he is for theatre and that this talented actor gets the chances he deserves! He delivers a menacing, three-dimensional performance as powerful as any Royal Shakespeare Company regular; his menace, and thirsty power-craving work a treat beside his buried need for love and tenderness.
Just when you think the play may outstay its one act running time, a series of plot twists (which I can’t reveal), lift us abstractly back into the larger question. Can love exist and grow in this kinky, drug fuelled, ‘for pay’ gay sex world?
This is a terrific, hard-hitting new play performed with exceptional power and directed with flair. Go!