Writer: Alexis Gregory
Director: Robert Chevara
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Billed as a ‘dark comic queer thriller’, Alexis Gregory’s new two-hander is a response to two high-profile murder cases which have hit the gay community in the last few years. Stephen Port killed four young men between 2014-15, while Stefano Brizzi murdered a gay police officer and was labelled the ‘cannibal cop-killer’ by the press. Although these men’s crimes, and perhaps those of Dennis Nilsen too, provide the backbone to this play, Sex/Crime also examines gay life in general.
B, played by Gregory himself, visits sex worker A, in a cellar somewhere in London, sinisterly recreated in the basement of The Glory, East London’s premier queer venue. Not only is the sofa, the single item of the set, wrapped in plastic sheeting, but the walls and pillars of this makeshift dungeon are also covered by the protective material, suggesting that somewhere along this play there will be blood.
A, a menacing Johnny Woo, is no ordinary escort. His website promises to recreate the crime scenes of a serial killer targeting gay men. For various prices, A will supply scenarios in which he will reconstruct the tortures and the beatings that the killer inflicts upon his victims. B has fetishized these crimes to such an extent that he has come for a happy ending, a happy ending that will see his dead body dumped perhaps on a tube train on the District Line.
There’s a long history of how gay men have internalised the hate directed at them over the decades. We see it in Larry Kramer’s novel Faggots, and William Friedkin’s play The Boys in the Band, both pre-AIDS texts, with characters fatalistically trusting their lives will be lonely or short. In the present day, and despite the supposed acceptance of gay life, self-hatred is still a problem within the community. It’s easier to have a meaningful relationship with drugs than with another man. If we hate ourselves so much how can we expect to be loved?
Sex/Crime may centre on the twisted relationship between a sadist and a masochist, but Gregory’s writing also seeks to uncover the loneliness of both men. He presents B as an excitable but tough gay man, hardly ever still, goading Woo’s very proper, very still, B, who in, shirtsleeves, clutches a clipboard, worried about the small print. However, director Robert Chevara, fresh from directing Vincent River at the Park Theatre, favours a surreal approach in the way the two characters interact, and this gives this dark material its comic edge. Jokes concerned with customer satisfaction and bureaucratic risk assessment forms ensure that the audience keep laughing. The comedy works well, but the rather portentous monologues seem out of place here, and their content would be best unpacked through dialogue.
This is the third play of the year that explores the idea of self-annihilation in the gay community: Consumables, a broad comedy, and Tumulus, a tricky whodunit, both played at the Vault Festival. Sex/Crime is perhaps more honest than either of these, and its strangeness invites us to view the drama as a metaphor for how to live in the 21st century. It’s not an easy watch, but an important one. And possibly not with the happy ending you’d expect for a play about sex.
Runs until 28 April 2018 | Image: Contributed