REVIEW: The Sex Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

Written and directed by Terry Johnson, this play doesn’t shy away from expressing controversial opinions and attempts to open up discussion on transphobia among other issues – but doesn’t feel it goes into as much detail as it should.

(c)Alastair Muir

Comedy can be effective in many different ways in opening up conversations about serious issues – whether it is confronting a character’s outdated ideas or challenging opinions it can be used to create quite an impact on the audience. Here, it seems that Terry Johnson is set out to shock audiences by having his characters express their opinions in strong way – which is fine, but the conversations do tend to become a little bit muddled and meandering than making a serious point.

As the title suggests, the play begins as a group of people gather to take part in a sex party, hosted by Alex and his girlfriend Hetty for an evening of pleasure . They are joined by Gilly, who has unresolved feelings for Alex, something that is acknowledged by husband Jake. Meanwhile there’s American Jeff and his plain speaking Russian wife Magdalena (Amanda Ryan), and Tim (Will Barton) with his partner Camilla. Everyone seems to be having fun but with the arrival of late-comer transgender woman Lucy arrives, prompting a huge range of responses from the other guests. Many of which are uncomfortable to hear out loud.

It has to be said that Terry John’s play is very much one of two halves – the first more playful with plenty of sharp one liners (although none of the conversations between characters seem to relate to one another) as characters analyse their approach to relationships and sex. This is then flipped on its head in the second act which takes a more serious approach and has dissecting each others thought and opinions on gender and sexual identity. It certainly feels as though there are two different plays trying to get out here and the second act for me felt a little bit weightier and more going for it – even if there is an element of viciousness as characters don’t hide their thoughts on Lucy’s life. The script is certainly lively and leaves you with plenty to think about – but the way in which the conversations have been structured don’t seem to make sense and leave the play feeling slightly muddled, particularly the confusing ending. This is definitely a marmite piece.

This being said, it is still a spirited production that has been designed and staged well (although I’m slightly dubious about the need for certain sound effects of what is going on in the other room when we all know what is happening). Tim Shortall’s set design is fabulously decadent and frames the play well – particularly when things get heated that you can sense just how constrained and uptight the characters begin to feel when topics of discussion get serious. Meanwhile, the soundtrack selected by John Leonard including ‘Come Together’ and ‘Both Sides Now’ have been carefully selected and well placed to illustrate certain points cleverly as well.

The cast is of high quality and it is credit to the warmth of their performances that they feel entirely believable. Pooya Mohseni as Lucy, delivers an understated but with a hint of bite to her performance as she challenges those around her and their opinions – it is a thoughtful and passionate take on this character who on reflection is the most likeable of them all. Molly Osborne is delightfully sweet and compassionate as Hetty, while Kelly Price is sharp and enjoyable to watch as Camilla.

As a production it has been well put together, but as a play it is slightly muddled and needs further work to make a stronger impact on the audience .

By Emma Clarendon

The Sex Party continues to play at the Menier Chocolate Factory until the 7th January 2023.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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