Sap – Soho Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Rafaella Marcus

Director: Jessica Lazar

Daphne is, on the face of it, an engaging figure in Rafaella Marcus’s Sap. Wisecracking her way through a comic monologue about her life on the comms team of a women’s charity, she is both open about and comfortable with her bisexuality.

Director Jessica Lazar places the audience in traverse, allowing Jessica Clark’s Daphne to narrate to one half of the audience, then turn to deliver a wry aside to the other. Her character navigates her attraction to a man she meets at a work, then to a woman she describes as a “goddess” at a lesbian bar – both played by Rebecca Banatvala. In each case, Clark’s delivery shows us a woman who is as confident in her sexuality as she is insecure about her attractiveness to other people.

The signs of trouble set in when her new girlfriend says that she will not date a bisexual woman, and Daphne chooses to hide her sexuality. Marcus has Daphne play this as a convenience, a white lie that she will eventually confess to – until her girlfriend and her one-night stand are revealed to have a connection to one another.

After Daphne tries to navigate a family wedding at which both her girlfriend and her male ex are present, the mood of the piece changes from comedic tension to full-on psychological drama as her male ex twists the lie by omission into a means of coercive blackmail. It is here that Banatvala shows her range, creating two distinct and yet related characters, nonverbally suggesting shared characteristics while also adding layers to each.

Clark, too, reveals layers to her character, in response to the damage done to her. She faces three antagonists: her rigidly anti-bisexual girlfriend, the abusive man she cannot get rid of, and her own lie. Marcus uses Daphne’s job at the women’s charity to briefly talk explicitly about the increased rates of assault and abuse that bisexual women face, but it is the portrayal of such abuse played out in front of us that is a more effective embodiment of such statistics.

There are elements of magical realism at work too, as Daphne experiences a connection to nature that, while predating her encounters, comes to the fore as the character endures at the hands of her tormentor. There are allusions to Greek mythology at play here, notably of Daphne and Apollo, but the imagery of a woman encasing herself in tree bark, of lakes full of drowned nymphs, speaks to a history of women being abused for men’s gratification, and the need to constructive a defensive shell to protect oneself.

While more and more plays dealing with LGBTQ+-specific issues are being commissioned and staged, Sap is rare in explicitly dealing with bisexuality and the prejudice many bi people face from within the rest of the queer community. That it does so with such engaging, occasionally distressing grace and humanity is just one part of its charm. Marcus has crafted a play which speaks on many levels, and is effective on each.

Continues until 22 April 2023

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