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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Royal Court Theatre Upstairs      Autumn 2010

Nick Payne's new play isn't badly written, but it's unnecessary.

It tells you nothing about its subject that you don't already know, offers no insights you don't already have, provides no solutions to its problems and is likely to leave you unmoved and unaffected.

You go out exactly as you came in, with only the passage of a not unpleasant ninety minutes to tell you anything actually happened.

A married couple in their forties have hit a lull in their sex lives. She's gone off it, he's frustrated, and attempts at solution like formal sex dates and role-playing are just too awkward and embarrassing.

Both are vaguely tempted to stray and one does briefly, and a few badly underwritten secondary characters tell us that other people have sexual problems too.

But at play's end they are all exactly where they were at the start, and we don't know, understand or feel for them any more than we did coming in.

(As a counterpoint to this, the couple's teenage son manages to convince a girl to let him use her body to practice his sexual technique on, so he'll be better prepared for the girl he really wants, and thus gets more action than anyone else in the play. This is presented as sweet, innocent and romantic.)

Part of the problem is Payne's bland and almost perversely uncommitted presentation of the story and characters. 

Pushed just a bit in one direction, this could have been a raunchy sex farce; tipped over in another, it could be an episode of EastEnders; explored with some sensitivity or insight, it might have helped us understand or empathise with the characters.

But Payne stands back so far from the material that he offers us no emotional way in, and no particular reason to care.

Playing characters who seem to be stuck in a time loop, so that their scenes could come in any random order without much change in effect, Pippa Haywood and Stuart McQuarrie work at making each isolated moment as real as possible, and James Musgrave and Isabella Laughland almost make the fantasy teenagers believable.

But it hardly matters, because nothing happens in this play, either to the characters or to you.

Gerald Berkowitz

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