Sex/Crime (Soho Theatre, until February 1st)
Imagine if Joe Orton had been asked to write the crime thriller Sleuth and you have a sense of the lethal cocktail served up in Alexis Gregory’s dark and dangerous two-hander comedy Sex/Crime.
While not a whodunit it’s the sort of twisting plot that would have Sherlock Holmes reaching for his seven per cent solution (rather appropriately in this case) and Hannibal Lecter licking his lips and dreaming of chianti.
Gregory’s intricately written drama made its debut a couple of years ago at The Glory, the renowned queer scene venue in the East End. Now, with the same cast and creatives, it has moved to the Soho Theatre, which feels exactly right for such an anarchic and bold reflection on obsession, desire, loneliness, crossing boundaries and gay serial killers.
Set in an attic – or playroom, as the owner prefers to call it – character A offers a personal fetish service copying to the last sex toy the crimes of a notorious serial murder who targets gay men and who has so far eluded the police. Character B likes the sound of such an authentic final experience, hoping to share in the sense of chemistry, abuse and any manner of extras, but is disappointed to discover there is no unhappy ending.
Taking the play (gratifyingly funded by Arts Council England) at face value is fascinating and satisfying enough: Gregory’s writing and Robert Chevara’s direction create a tense
atmosphere as A and B play a cat and mouse game which constantly teases as to who is manipulating who.
Beneath all that darker themes lie in the shadows, such as the gruesome nature of celebrity, the bleak realities of consumerism, the thin barrier between love and pain, the desire for connection and affection in a superficial society, the dismal underworld of a bright city and being gay in the 21st Century.
Gregory’s text has a sinister lyrical quality that captivates but never drowns the audience. Just when a melodic monologue threatens either to turn Shakespearean or launch into Climb Every Mountain there’s a sharp break into a moment of comedy, truth or violence.
The two engaging performances ensure that what could all too easily be something frivolous or simply salacious is in fact far more psychologically complex, set in a fantasy world with a blood-spattered lining.
Better known as a leading alternative cabaret performer Jonny Woo more than makes his dramatic mark as A, the businesslike sex worker out to make a killing. Finding a niche market among those seeking the ultimate climax he is a ruthless entrepreneur yet with a heart for something more personally and romantically satisfying. It is a performance with cool shades and immense depth.
Gregory himself plays B, the client whose initial histrionics mask something more menacing. Like the script itself he shifts subtly between the over-enthusiastic and serpentine, creating an enigmatic character who constantly wrong-foots those in the room with a mix of high camp and understated torment.
Chevara directs with a deeply satisfying rhythm and pace that matches the poetry of the writing and the comprehension of the performers, tweaking the mood with skill throughout.
Mike Robertson’s lighting serves to underline the suggestion of violence, implied but never directly witnessed, sprinkled with moments of unnerving darkness, while Rocco Venna’s simple plastic sheet-covered set points to something clinical and seedy.
Sex/Crime is an assured piece of writing in a production that never outstays its welcome. While several of the twists and turns are deliciously obvious, this is an unconventional piece that poses provocative and unexpected questions in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Images: Matt Spike