News Ticker

Camden Fringe 2015: The Sexes (Etcetera Theatre, London)

sexes Make-up: sex. Jaacq Hugo (left) and Laura Louise Baker (right). Photograph: Courtesy of the production.
sexes

Make-up: sex. Jaacq Hugo (left) and Laura Louise Baker (right). Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

In A Nutshell

A dark and vicious gender-bending “sex” bomb, The Sexes is a soul-bearing and explosive exploration of gender and art.

Overview

Jackie and Lars are a husband and wife acting team. Now well into the autumn years of their waning careers, a part comes up that could be the renaissance for either of them. But what riffs in the relationship will it expose as they battle it out to decide who’s more worthy of the part, and decide just what gender should it even be played by?

Writing

After the success of Back Door earlier this year, Polis Loizou and the Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company revive one of Loizou’s earlier successes, The Sexes, with some new script changes. Yes, it’s an exploration of the he vs. she for which there have been countless plays and films about, but don’t expect the ordinary or frivolous. There’s no “men leave the toilet seat up” and “women take ages to get ready” bullshit here. Instead, expect one of the most complex, twisted, and dark explorations that tear at the very tendons of gender ideology with intensity and brutal wit.

It’s the complexity that really makes The Sexes. Everything from the woman as victim and the man as bully, to the man as emotional intertia to the woman as hysteria is flipped, subverted, inverted, along with everything else in between. But the absolute genius in Loizou’s writing is that they managed to go through all these twisting and table-turning arguments without making them feel contrived. The framing of these explorations through the fractious dyanmic of our central couple and also their art. uses social ideals as well as artistic clichés of gender that seep out through well structured and flowing lines of debate. The Sexes is an arsenal of opinions and arguments that not only comes from a deep emotional and mental intelligence but that organically emerges as Jackie and Lars shout it out. The more they bicker and start probing at the dark heart of their lives and ambitions, the more thrilling, difficult, and revelatory The Sexes become.

To do this, Loizou also created two characters with very complicated and comprehensive backgrounds that really push the themes, drawing and revealing these backstories only when needed, rather than plumping for lazy exposition. But the most striking thing about both of them is just how devastatingly vulnerable they both are. Loizou has a tight grip on both of their frailties and their neuroses, as well as presenting a pristine reflection of the unsavoury emotional dysfunction that often goes into a creative’s personality. As much The Sexes is a supremely smart, you also feel that its simultaneously a deeply soul-bearing play for Loizou, which really gives The Sexes that realistic and captivating slant.

The only problem (if it can be called that) is just how subtly the tone of The Sexes goes from bright to pitch-black. This is clearly a very deliberate ploy, but one that makes you a touch uncomfortable as its completely unexpected. You start with an almost pantomime portrayal of gender at the polars, to something very dry and biting, to something that is intense and troubling. Indeed, half-way through you’re really unsure whether you should be laughing or not at some of the scathingly barbed comments, and at the end of The Sexes you wonder why you even laughing in the first place as you rush to the bar for a much needed drink. But you leave The Sexes feeling challenged and elated at having witness one of the most thoughtful and theatrically ingenious gender politic plays out there.

Direction & Production

The most obvious directional decision made by Loizou, who also directs, is the decision to have the central pair played by actors of the opposite gender to who they’re representing. This is far from gimmick and really helps bring out some of the many of the flipped ideals that are inherent in The Sexes. The odd and ironic effect that this has is that you can easily overlook the genders of the actors by being more engrossed in their character rather than their signifiers, but at the same time never quite forget about about the blatant gender-fucking here. This decision really comes into its own when the characters decide to role-play each other as the actors then become part of a divine circular gender-fuck joke. At every point of The Sexes, this device always brings something quietly brilliant and never feels tacky or straining.

With very bare production values, you really have the opporutnity to get stuck right into The Sexes’ text. The complete lack of set and props, meaning everything has to be mimed, looks a bit awkward at first. But as The Sexes wages on it becomes irrelevant and you get sucked into its brutal vortex without obstacle. Set and props would certainly help an audience relax a bit more as it wouldn’t look so strange and “fringe”, but how can you hold something so shallow against the production when the pay-off is something so enriching and cerebral? It’s like not liking the Mona Lisa because you disapprove of the frame.

Cast

Jaacq Hugo and Laura Louise Baker are a brilliant team and both give outstanding performances in The Sexes. It’s difficult to really pick them out individually as you really feel they come as a pair in this show, especially in the catty and seething disdainful rapport they manage to conjure between them. What’s really great about them is that they both constantly have that slight element of pantomime/gender exaggeration in playing the opposite gender, but balance this with stirring and busty performances. The most dramatic thing about both of their performances is that you can see how affected both Hugo and Baker are in giving them: Hugo with a composed yet shaken demeanour, and Baker with genuine tears.

Verdict

Gender-fucking brilliant. The Sexes is as smart and as fierce a gender politic play as you’re likely to get, with savage script and intense performances.

The Sexes plays at the Etcetera Theatre, London, NW1 7BU, until 16 August 2015 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival 2015. Tickets are £9 (concessions available). To book, visit www.etceteratheatre.com.