When the audience first enters Soho Theatre upstairs, they could be forgiven for fearing they’re about to witness a blood bath. Plastic sheeting covers the walls and a red sofa in the centre of the stage, reminiscent of the US TV series Dexter; while a trolley laden with BSDM ‘implements’ sits ominously at the front. But this isn’t a blood-thirsty television show or Fifty Shades of Grey (thankfully); this is dark comedy Sex/Crime.
Written by Alexis Gregory, Sex/Crime is a two-hander featuring Gregory and Jonny Woo. In an attic in an unknown location ‘A’ (Woo) earns his fame and fortune by recreating the murders of a notorious gay serial killer for the sensual pleasure of his punters. ‘B’, an ardent fan of the serial killer, pays A to torture him, but when he discovers his payment doesn’t actually involve being murdered, he’s not particularly happy.
Gregory’s writing is particularly sharp in places and covers many themes, including the media’s glorification of violence and murder. The two characters constantly jibe at one another, a constant battle, and Robert Chevara’s direction has ensured a fast-paced production. At times the energetic pacing feels a little disconcerting, but it reflects the energy of B in particular, as well as the reference to drugs throughout. Despite the subject matter Sex/Crime is also very funny in places, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially during the first half of the play in particular.
While Rocco Venna’s set is relatively simple, it sets up the scene well, making the most of the intimate surroundings of the Soho Theatre. There are moments, notably during B’s punishments, where the atmosphere feels claustrophobic and adds to the tension as you realise there’s nowhere to escape. Mike Robinson’s lighting is effective, combining well during B’s punishments, and the use of blackouts during these scenes are particularly creative, encouraging audience members to use their imaginations.
Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory are a great double act, opposite sides of the coin, their chemistry palpable, and you can almost feel the tension between them. Gregory puts in an energetic performance as the camp, needy, somewhat stereotypical loner B, while Woo is calm and measured – at least at first – as the methodological A, clipboard in hand, a man who follows the rules (not to mention the EU regulations for taking breaks) and strives to read out his customer satisfaction survey before the session begins (noting that B won’t be in any fit state to answer after his punishment). The two complement each other well, but the trouble is that neither character is particularly likeable, therefore it’s difficult to invest in them and care about what happens.
After a strong start, there are times when the show seems to lose its way, and if anything tries to pack too much in to the 60-minute run time, with the action culminating rather too quickly in a disturbing and predictable ending. While the show does seem to miss the mark, there is certainly potential for it. Sex/Crime won’t be to everyone’s taste, but despite its flaws it is a unique and darkly funny production with creative direction, a strong cast and some brilliant one-liners.
Sex/Crime runs at the Soho Theatre until Saturday 1 February.
Photo credit: Matt Spike