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The Sexes
Published on Monday, 18 July 2011

4 stars

Underground Venues - Pauper's Pit
14, 17 Jul, 7:45pm-8:45pm; 18 Jul, 10:30pm-11:30pm
Reviewed by Ian Hamilton

Off-Off-Off Broadway return to Buxton with this performance of The Sexes, a moving and sometimes disturbing portrayal of two married actors who are vying for the same gender-unspecified rôle.  Written and directed by Polis Loizou, the play features Jaacq Hugo as Jacquee and Laura Louise Baker as Lars – although not with the genders you might expect.

The play begins with video clips of glamorous old film footage, and cuts to the two actors’ boudoir as they just come off stage.  Although initially supportive of each other, the two begin to bicker about the aforementioned film part, which sets the scene for much of the play.  Jacquee is calm and camp, wittily sarcastic, a foil to Lars’ emotional and often angry persona.  The latter covets a film role portraying a hooker; not to be outdone, Jacquee gets in on the act and argues her case.

The nature of acting is put under the microscope – are they, as Jacquee’s father put it, themselves whores? Do they mess with the head, or tug at the heart strings?  Their arguments about acting spill over into real life, and a brutal dissection of their complex relationship and marriage; there is cruelty and tenderness in roughly equal measures as the pair try to score points off each other.  There’s jealousy, too – each seems to want to be the tragic hero, the victim, the survivor.  Unpalatable secrets of the past are also dredged up as the two parry.

The acting is superb at all times.  There is a real contrast between Hugo’s calm bitchiness and pithy put-downs, and Baker’s wearing her heart on her (or his) sleeve. The former’s camp New York tones call to mind those of Andy Warhol, whereas the latter is blusteringly British. There are other voices, too – an old biddy in the audience, briefly an Irish agent, and in a captivating vignette, Jacquee cruelly mocking Lars as (s)he plays both parts in a spoof interview and Oscar ceremony.

The direction is imaginative and I found the long pauses particularly effective.  For most of the play Jacquee is looking away from us, removing or applying make-up, a glamorous but shadowy figure visible mostly through her stage mirror.  Lars confronts us directly, occasionally on all fours, and often they do not look at each other.  The décor is what you might expect of an actor’s boudoir and the lights are lowered at key points, one being just as Jacquee cruelly mimics her lover.

The writing too is of a very high standard, often witty – such as when Jacquee compliments Lars on the first 10 minutes of his performance, only to qualify it by saying it was a shame about the next 2 hours, or the reminiscence about how they met – “I had shoulder-pads, you were stoned”.  There are some great put-downs, including the telling evocation of Lars “(going) around scouting for people’s emotions”.  If actors are indeed whores, says Jacquee, “no wonder we’re both actors”.

Sometimes the sexual inversion is a little confusing, but this is an engaging performance by all concerned.  The ending seems to come very suddenly – in fact the time passes quickly, in spite of the slow pace of some of the dialogue.  The subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste, but I recommend this show for both its great acting and its clever script.

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