Tag Archives: Molly Osborne

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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Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Playhouse Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Playhouse Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd June 2019



Friedman’s formidable presence is the perfect complement to Tevye; one that no Matchmaker could cap.”


Almost before Trevor Nunn’s “Fiddler on the Roof” opened last December at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it had ‘West End Transfer’ stamped all over it. Three months on from its relocation to the Playhouse Theatre it is still a richly deserved hot ticket. Settling into the larger space, the show has thankfully lost none of the intimacy and passion: there is always the fear of over-projection, but the subtlety and attention to detail of this production is beautifully intact, gently immersing the audience into the small Russian village of Anatevka in 1905.

Designer Robert Jones’ set – a ramshackle Jewish shtetl – spills out into the auditorium; the smokey darkness of the crooked wooden buildings backed by a foreboding bank of bare woodland, yet overlain with folk-tale lanterns and Tim Lutkin’s time-shifting lighting that conjures both the chilly light of an uncertain dawn with heart-warming twilight. A true reflection of the town folk’s stoicism in the face of their impending resettlement. Trevor Nunn has conjured up the perfect mix of mockery and menace in this atmospheric revival.

Based on the stories of one of the most famous and beloved of all Jewish writers; Sholem Aleichem, the story centres on Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman, forever questioning ‘Tradition’, and the mysterious ways in which God moves. A patriarchal figure, his refusal to bend to the changing times is slowly eroded by the strong-willed actions of his daughters, who rebel against the custom of arranged marriage and choose to marry for love. Although he never quite lets go, Tevye’s grip on his heritage is increasingly fragile. Andy Nyman gives a stunningly natural and captivating performance of this central role. Whilst making light of his plight with precision-timed quips and asides, we are also continuously aware of his fear of the threat of exile and, more poignantly, his love for his wife and daughters.

In its first major cast change since the transfer Maria Friedman takes over as his wife Golde. Friedman’s formidable presence is the perfect complement to Tevye; one that no Matchmaker could cap. Their onstage chemistry evokes the hard-won intimacy built from the ups and downs of a twenty-five-year marriage; culminating in the tender self-realisation of their duet “Do You Love Me?” Friedman again pours the liquid gold of her voice over the achingly angelic “Sunrise, Sunset”, one of the choral highlights. In fact, the entire company do wonderful justice to Jerry Bock’s sumptuous score, with a sensitive, but never sentimental, interpretation of Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics. Molly Osbourne and Nicola Brown as the daughters Tzeitel and Chava are joined by Ellie Mullane impressively stepping in as Hodel. The three sisters give heartfelt performances, accentuating the satire often missed in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”. The village matchmaker is indeed central to the story, and her role is made more vital by Anita Dobson who takes on the mantle with a thrilling energy, showing us her dab hand at comic timing.

But beneath this musical portrait of family and community is the solemn undercurrent of violence, anti-Semitism and persecution; sadly still all too pertinent. Matt Cole’s choreography, paying homage to Jerome Robbins’ original, shows how rapidly high spirits can descend into oppressed chaos, particularly when a vodka-soaked wedding dance is broken by the arrival of a vicious tsarist pogrom at the close of the first act. A threat that is taken to its tragic conclusion in the final scenes.

The human touch easily sits alongside the disturbing historical commentary. Yet, despite the epic themes, the staging of this production lends real intimacy to a thousand seat venue, and by avoiding the temptation to overplay to the rafters the emotional impact touches the heart with much more force. Its message is clear; but what is equally clear is that this quite simply is still a triumph of a show. Musical theatre at its best. Matchless.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson


Playhouse Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof

Playhouse Theatre until 2nd November


Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens | ★★★ | Union Theatre | May 2019
Mycorrhiza | ★★★ | The Space | May 2019
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | May 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | Trafalgar Studios | May 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | June 2019
The Flies | ★★★ | The Bunker | June 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | Tabard Theatre | June 2019
The Decorative Potential Of Blazing Factories (Film) | ★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | June 2019
Bitter Wheat | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | June 2019

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