Writers: Claire Sweeney &Mandy Muden
Director: Ken Alexander
We British have a very curious attitude to sex and sexuality. For the most part, it is not something we talk about – but when we do, it is most often with a hand over our mouths, covering a smirk, stifling an embarrassed giggle.
And then there’s the other end of the scale, where there is still humour, but it is loud and raucous and unashamed – but also slightly detached from real emotion. The world of the raucous hen night, the Ann Summers party – the world of Sex in Suburbia.
Presented as a faux radio phone-in, agony aunt Penny (Lindiz Germain), her producer Rory (Carl Patrick) and “special guest” Claire Sweeney present a series of vignettes – too long to be described as sketches, too perfunctory and pointless to be playlets – in which they portray a series of dysfunctional relationships, from the football widow who struggles to tear her husband away from the television, to the man who persuades his reluctant wife to go swinging, only to find himself sidelined as she embraces the new community of friends she has found.
It’s a format which relies upon all three performers to take on a number of rôles. Most successful is Patrick, who imbues every character in his roster with a sense of individuality and character that his co-stars never quite achieve. The bigger problem is that these scenes never end with an unsatisfactory conclusion. Partly that may be due to (as Sweeney, who wrote the show with Mandy Muden, attests) the tales being based on real life stories – and as such are incomplete, inconclusive and don’t so much end as fizzle out, wrapped up in the fake radio set with a trite phrase that devalues what good has been achieved in the preceding scene.
And, despite all its problems, there is good buried within Sex in Suburbia. Sweeney’s portrayal of Cheryl, a thirty-something woman who is petrified of being left on the shelf, is the closest she and Muden come to creating a character with an emotional depth. Hers is the only story one feels engaged with enough to want to hear more. Germain and Patrick share their best moment in the show’s most complete and effective piece of storytelling, as a working woman comes home early from work to discover her husband cross-dressing as “Audrey”, and finding that this new person in her relationship becomes the best friend that her husband was failing to be.
Elsewhere, though, the show is a bit of a mess. Germain’s solo stand-up routine as a sex toy demonstrator has potential, but needs better writing and a punchline. As with so many segments of this show, there is the promise of a climax but ultimately fails to deliver. At some point, it feels like Sex in Suburbia needs to be told that it’s not that common, it doesn’t happen to everyone and it is a big deal.
The show is punctuated throughout by musical numbers from Sweeney and her co-stars, which are far more successful than any of the scripted segments. Even then, though, bringing the evening to a close with a medley of hits that encourages the audience to stand up and dance means that they remain on their feet during the final bows. When it comes standing ovations, then, Sex in Suburbia commits that cardinal sin: it is faking it.
Reviewed on 26 Feb 2015 then touring