Valentine’s Day is just around the corner but, at last night’s opening of Stefan Golaszewski’s Sex With A Stranger, romance certainly wasn’t in the air. In fact, for Russell Tovey’s character Adam, the mere act of buying his girlfriend a packet of pre-chopped lettuce to save her time when preparing his lunch was as romantic as it got.
Sex With A Stranger focuses on Adam and his far from passionate relationships with two girls: his girlfriend Ruth (Naomi Sheldon) and his newly acquired one night stand Grace (Jaime Winstone) who he meets on a night out. The play opens as Adam and Grace wait for a night bus to take them back to her house. While Adam swigs from his bottle of Lucozade, their conversation is littered with awkward silences and half-hearted compliments with neither party really interested in what the other has to say.
It isn’t until the two clubbers are back at the house that we are introduced to Adam’s real girlfriend Ruth, who has been pushed to the back of his mind for the night. After an uncomfortable discussion about condoms, there is a shift back in time to earlier in the evening when Ruth is loyally ironing the crumpled shirt which is soon to be ripped off her boyfriend’s back in his debauched drunken encounter. In several minutes of gloomy silence, she continues to iron, the rapidly emanating steam reflecting the lack of steaminess in her own bedroom. Shirt ironed, boyfriend dressed, she comments on his uncharacteristic facial hair, agreeing that “it’s good to have a change”. Little does she know how her boyfriend is going to manifest his own need for a change later in the evening.
In the play’s shifting time sequence, hilarious moments of drunken tomfoolery are interspersed with periods of glum monotony, as Ruth irons, vacuums and cooks her way through the play. A flash forward to the future sees Grace on her wedding day describing herself as “warm with the glow of ever-lasting love”, a stark contrast to the fumbled and detached affair of her night with the unfaithful Adam.
This frank three-hander is staged in a venue so intimate that each member of the small audience feels, somewhat awkwardly, like part of the production – although the graphic kissing is so loud it could probably be heard by the whole city – yet the play itself is void of intimacy entirely.
Void of intimacy it may be but void of hilarity it is not. Tovey provokes constant laughter with his “cool” response to every question and Winstone adds humour to everyday occurrences such as gargling mouthwash and rifling through her handbag in search of her Oyster card. Even the unfortunate Ruth is a comic character, with her obsession for household chores and irate behaviour in a supermarket queue.
It may not be your typical choice of entertainment around Valentine’s Day but Sex With A Stranger, with its comedy, frankness and numerous plates of food, is definitely worth trying.