Tag Archives: Lisa Dwan

The Sex Party

The Sex Party


Menier Chocolate Factory

THE SEX PARTY at the Menier Chocolate Factory


The Sex Party

“Despite everything, the performances are – individually and collectively – quite wonderful”


What exactly is Terry Johnson saying in “The Sex Party”? It is probably the biggest question being asked as the audience leave the Menier Chocolate Factory, but the answer lies at the far end of a very circuitous route, littered with the roadkill of dozens of other debates – some bigger, some smaller, some old and some new. If Johnson had the answer, we would probably be watching a shorter play, but we would also be witnessing the premier of something ground-breaking, brave and unprecedented. As it stands, though, Johnson’s writing, whilst being wonderfully sharp, gives itself too many challenges.

But there is one question that pulls focus from all the others. Johnson has (semi) joked in interviews that this play runs the risk of him getting himself “cancelled”. And he has already confessed to losing friends – not because of the subject matter but because of the new vocabulary and attitudes he has had to adjust to and adopt. The characters in the drama have similar fallings out. Honestly. Is this progress?

Like Mike leigh’s “Abigail’s Party”, there is more than way to look at “The Sex Party”. We can recoil from the cringe-worthy pretension of the faux pas and twitter-feed platitudes, or we can see it as a portrait of individual and marital unhappiness. Unfortunately, the focus is bound to fall onto the former, which leaves the cast with a much harder job. Despite everything, the performances are – individually and collectively – quite wonderful.

Alex (Jason Merrells) and his young girlfriend Hetty (Molly Osborne) are hosting their first sex party. Osborne gives a standout portrayal of the submissive liberal – one who excuses coercion if it can be seen to be a personal choice. The party guests are trawled from the internet or chance meetings, with the exception of Alex’s old flame Gilly (Lisa Dawn) and her tetchy, jealous husband Jake (John Hopkins). Jeff (a wonderfully gruff, outspoken and debauched Timothy Hutton) barges onto the scene with a rich presence we outwardly resent while secretly finding his offensiveness funny. Magdalena, his Russian trophy wife (Amanda Ryan) is in tow, upstaging him – and everyone else – with her ludicrous and laughable opinions. (They say that many a true word is spoken in jest). Enter cool and aware Camilla (Kelly Price) with posh-but-dim, blond-haired buffoon Tim (an impressive Will Barton who occasionally channels another prominent posh-but-dim, blond-haired buffoon). The elephant in the room is Lucy (Pooya Mohseni), a transgender woman who throws a spanner into the works, sets the cat among the pigeons, and generally throws every other metaphor and cliché into the mix.

Mohseni doesn’t enter until the end of Act One. Up until then the piece can be enjoyed as a kind of alternative kitchen sink drama. Although it is a beautifully crafted kitchen sink in Tim Shortall’s stunning set that depicts a stylish Islington fitted kitchen. They are all in the kitchen at this party, only occasionally retreating offstage into the lounge for some staggered and brief sex. Conversation is awkward and the debates more varied than in the second half. It is clear, though, that Johnson is poking fun at the characters and not the subjects they are discussing. This is an important point, and one that is so often missed.

After interval the tone darkens, but narrows its focus. But this could well be the brilliant purpose of the writing. At one point, Lisa Dawn – who gives us a show stealing performance throughout – laments the fact that her own issues are completely overlooked and overshadowed by the subjects that have bulldozed themselves into the collective and confused consciousness. Mohseni, the flagship of self-identity in this piece, does her best to moderate the argument with poise and a coolness that seems to be telling us that it really shouldn’t matter.

“The Sex Party” is putting its head above the parapet. It is certain to be knocked down. It deals with prejudice, but the irony is that the same prejudices will inform people’s perception of the play before they have even seen it. Which is a shame. Yes, it could be pruned somewhat, and have fewer non-sequiturs and tangents, but Johnson’s writing is as acute and observant as ever; and often funny.


Reviewed on 16th November 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Alastair Muir



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Brian and Roger | ★★★★★ | November 2021
Habeas Corpus | ★★★ | December 2021
Legacy | ★★★★★ | March 2022


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Beckett Triple Bill


Jermyn Street Theatre

Beckett Triple Bill

Beckett Triple Bill:

Krapp’s Last Tape – Eh Joe – The Old Tune

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 17th January 2020



“Nunn’s inspired direction and choices, and the consistently wonderful acting, gives the overall effect of this being one three act play rather than three one act plays”


Kicking off the new decade at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a trio of short, one act plays by Samuel Beckett. A master of solitary minimalism, Beckett wrote many to choose from. The three, compiled and directed by Trevor Nunn for the “Beckett Triple Bill” are, on the surface, quite different from each other and originally written for different media (the stage, television and radio). But Nunn has picked out a common thread of memory and of looking back, allowing them to sit together in illogical harmony as an intimate and seamlessly crafted trilogy. In each play the protagonists are reviewing their lives through their refracted memories. ‘We’ve never been who we think we were once, and we only remember what never happened’. I don’t remember where that aphorism comes from, of course, but it defines the fragile fabric of nostalgia that we all share, and that Beckett so expertly writes about.

“Krapp’s Last Tape” opens the evening. The title of the play seems obvious, that what we are witnessing is the recording of Krapp’s final tape, yet it could also just be his most recent. It is Krapp’s sixty-ninth birthday and he is playing a tape he recorded thirty years earlier, listening with a mixture of contempt and regret. At times he cannot remember the meaning of words he used to use and has to look them up in the dictionary. Afterwards he removes the tape, loads a fresh one and starts recording his older voice, a voice that is scathing about the man he used to be and the man he has become. James Hayes, as Krapp, is captivating; holding the audience tightly in his grasp, even through his long moments of silence. We are as attentive as he is. As he listens, we listen too, and Hayes has the ability to draw us right into the character’s mind.

“Eh Joe” takes us into slightly darker territory. Originally written for television, it translates perfectly to the intimacy of the space. Simon Nicholas’ live, close-up back projection of Joe’s face pays homage to Beckett’s original specifications, but here it is very much a backdrop. We barely notice the camera moving in closer. All our attention is on Niall Buggy who utters not a single word as Joe. Buggy relies on expression alone, and some real tears, as he reacts to the voice in his head. While Buggy is seen and not heard, Lisa Dwan, as The Voice, is heard and not seen. Dwan’s voice is barely above a whisper but it creates a storm in the mind of Joe. Each word a knife going in. A pause for breath, then in again.

Buggy returns for the final round in “The Old Tune”, teaming up with David Threlfall to play Gorman and Cream respectively; two old-timers reunited after many years. Beckett’s radio play injects a small dose of much needed humour to the evening. Buggy and Threlfall are faultless in their portrayal of two bewildered men lost in a modern world that is passing them by – quite literally too with Max Pappenheim’s sound design littering the stage with passing motor cars. The elderly couple remember a time before cars. They remember a lot, but forget just as much too; disagreeing with each other’s memories in a kind of prose version of Lerner and Loewe’s ‘I Remember It Well’. Beckett’s dialogue, often absurd in the extreme, always manages to contain universal themes that we recognise and relate to. The exaggerated nostalgia that provides the comedy is timeless and it still pervades today, having influenced many writers on the way, most noticeably Monty Python’s ‘Yorkshiremen Sketch’.

“Beckett Triple Bill” is an evening of contrast and similarity. I initially set out to appraise each short piece separately, but Nunn’s inspired direction and choices, and the consistently wonderful acting, gives the overall effect of this being one three act play rather than three one act plays.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Robert Workman


Beckett Triple Bill

Jermyn Street Theatre until 8th February 2020


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain | ★★★ | December 2019


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