Sex With Strangers @ Hampstead Theatre
Cast Includes Emilia Fox and Theo James
Running Time: 2 hours 20 mins inc. interval
Sex With Strangers starts with a contrived opening – two strangers meet in a secluded writers’ retreat – one a rejected yet promising writer, one a bestseller who aspires to higher critical acclaim. Given the title, this obviously leads to things getting closer for the pair, and many of the scenes in the first act end with the lights going down on the pair getting intimate.
This could be one of the flaws of the piece – many of the scenes end on the same note, with the pair in a steamy embrace (or more), however, it does get repetitive and it is not as risqué as the title sounds – Theo James gets nearly nude but it almost has a ‘Carry On’ humour in the scene, as he holds a book over his lower regions.
The piece debates some interesting issues, such as the validity of an author, and what it takes to be a ‘success’ in the world of publishing – in some ways this could have be taken further. One of the things that could be questioned whilst watching was how much Olivia (Fox) used Ethan (James) to further her career using his contacts, and how he used her ‘credibility’ as an author in a similar way, however this is something that isn’t tackled in the piece in a satisfying way.
Both Fox and James are good in the parts – Emilia Fox is good as Olivia, and shows the vulnerability of the role and also her charm, and shows her flexibility as an actress given the piece’s demands. James is great – whilst he is charming in the early scenes, there is a suspicion that all is not as it seems, which gives the piece real tension as the audience wonders how true he is to his ideals.
The sets are simplistic and static, and serve the plot – each act has a different set (which required a longer than usual interval to change) but each is immersive and has detail. A couple of scene transitions could have been improved due to their similarity – sometimes the transition denotes a differing timespan which isn’t clear, especially towards the end as it is not clear if the piece has ended (but is transitioning to the end scene). The end scene itself is a bit of a cliché, and ends the piece on a potential reconciliatory note – possibly this was a favourite moment, with Fox facing a life-changing junction.
Summary: A relationship drama that has great performances, that whilst having flaws, is ultimately satisfying. ****