Sex / Crime
Reviewed – 22nd January 2020
“the energy on stage is palpable and infectious”
A PVC backdrop. Deep red sofa covered in plastic. A tray with two needles sitting poised for action. Banging music rings in your ears. The stage is set for a dark and disturbing evening that will question where pleasure ends and pain begins. A queer “American Psycho”? A messy murder mystery? The show in question is “Sex/Crime”, Alexis Gregory’s startlingly original new play returning to London at the Soho Theatre.
In thickly lyrical prose, “A” (Jonny Woo) and “B” (Gregory) meet in a mysterious room in a city in turmoil. Paying good money to have famous gay murders recreated on his body, “B” is prepared to be submissive, to give himself up to death and pleasure. “A”, offering him punches and slaps for a pre-arranged price, is clinical in his approach. But talk turns to “Him”, to the world outside, to love, to passion. “A”’s professional demeanour breaks down, and it isn’t long before the men’s roles take a surprising turn.
Woo gives an authoritative performance as “A”, his size bringing a unique presence to the low-ceilinged Upstairs theatre at Soho. Gregory is his ideal counterpart. Built with the shoulders of a bodybuilder, “B” is a high-pitched Londoner, almost camp, his movements precise and words even more so. Together, they make an excellent double act. The comedy rarely stops, and the references are topical. At one point Woo references EU regulations on breaks: “I’m holding on to those as long as I can” he notes, witheringly.
Directed by Robert Chevara, the two figures dance around each other, playing with distance and proximity with shocking effect. Movement is precise, pointed and poised. If things seem a little hyper-active, it matches the high octane, high adrenaline situation (not to mention all the drugs). Rocco Venna’s set leaves a strong impression in the imagination and Mike Robertson’s lighting design sees an almost clinical light beam up at the actors’ faces throughout. It’s certainly unsettling and gives those blackouts an added touch of menace.
The final third was where I started to wane, and the script seemed to lose a little bit of focus. What seemed grounded in a specific, yet unfamiliar, reality, falls away, making the final moments of twisting and turning a little less potent. Gorgeous as the finale of montages is, I wish it ended as punchy as it started.
This audience was in bits though, and hung on every moment. With strong leads and an even stronger sense of style, “Sex/Crime” is certainly an enjoyable spectacle. Dark comedy drips from the ceiling like PVC sheets and the energy on stage is palpable and infectious. As a new piece of writing, Gregory’s voice shines and is certainly one to keep an eye out for. “Riot Act” is still one of my favourite shows in recent years, and I can only wait with anticipation as to what original idea strikes Gregory next. In the meantime, do check out this explosive and surprising show while it’s here.
Reviewed by Robert Frisch
Photography by Matt Spike
Sex / Crime
Soho Theatre until 1st February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: