Firstly, I should clarify that I went to see this because Hampstead Theatre provided me with free tickets through their development scheme to increase audiences under 30. They did not ask me to write this review in exchange for the tickets, but it seems more honest to be clear. If you are under 30, I would recommend looking into this scheme: all I did was retweet a competition tweet, and I had a great night in exchange!
I very much enjoyed Sex With Strangers: I had a fun night, and was left with a few things to think about. The premise is two authors, Olivia, a traditional paper-writing author who writes for herself and Ethan bestselling author of Sex With Strangers, a book based in blogging recounting a year of encounters with women, with a huge social media following, who meet at a writing retreat, fall in lust and have a lovely weekend together, while debating the various benefits/issues with their respective writing styles. (First act, succinctly.) In the second act, they have returned home, and the scene is Olivia’s flat, which is the scene for arguments between Olivia and Ethan, as each try to develop their careers. They end up separated, Olivia having benefited from Ethan’s popularity. The plot is a little more complicated than that, and twists and turns, but it wasn’t really the highlight of the production: it is a good play, but not a brilliant one. What made it a great production was the skill with which the actors brought the text off the page.
Theo James and Emilia Fox were outstanding. They were funny, playing the text in ways that one wouldn’t necessarily think of off-bat but the inventiveness was successful: it brought out the very good elements of the text and sold the less successful elements of the writing. Two handers can be a little tiring; it can become stilted to see the same two actors and the same two characters in interaction simply with one another for too long but this absolutely was not the case here: the production was two hours twenty, including interval and it was perfect: not too long, and so exciting throughout, not so short that you were left feeling cheated, simply the right length to watch these two actors master the stage. You wanted more, but knew you’d got the right amount.
The sets were phenomenally detailed and evocative and really added to the atmosphere. The living space of the writing retreat was appropriately kitsch and cosy and Olivia’s living room was perfect. It was also basically exactly what I want my future home to look like (walls lined with well-loved and well filled bookshelves) which helped sell it to me personally, but it was perfect for the character.
One small thing, which I want to say as well is that the programme is amazing. For full disclosure, I was also given a free programme (I think they were £3 or £4), but seriously! It contains the information about the cast and creatives you’d expect, but also contains a detailed interview with the playwright, a couple of essays about digitisation/media and writing (one of the focuses of the play), rehearsal photographs and some information about the theatre. It contains very little advertising, and almost all the advertising (only one exception) is for theatre which the reader/audience member might genuinely be interested in. This shouldn’t need to be a whole paragraph of praise, but really good, interesting programmes seem to be really rare now. If you have the few pounds to spare when you go to the Hampstead Theatre, the programmes might actually be worth the while.
That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading, and please like the post if you enjoyed it! I’d love to hear your thoughts on more detailed reviews like this one: I usually put all my reviews into a single post at the end of the month, and so they’re shorter and less detailed: do you enjoy the more thorough ones? Is there anything I could do better when I write longer reviews? I’d also love to know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about in the weeks ahead!
Disclaimer: I was given tickets, a programme, playtext and drink by the Hampstead Theatre, which prompted me to write this review, though I was not expected to write it.