Wholly Unnecessary: SEX WITH STRANGERS at the Hampstead Theatre

I don't remember the last time that I saw a play as painfully unnecessary as Sex With Strangers at the Hampstead Theatre. The show was so pointless that it crossed my mind several times throughout the performance: "what is the point in this?" Not only is the dialogue cliched and cringe-worthy, but the story is too in a plot that goes from drab to dry at the speed of paint drying. Why write this?

I say this, but I did still kind of enjoy the play, in the same kind of ironic way that I've enjoyed shows like I Can't Sing and Exposure in the past; they're bad - blatantly so - but almost so bad that they are amazing...? Okay, maybe I take that back: I Can't Sing was actually much better than people made it out to be and Exposure was just funny, but this piece was about as enjoyable as a romcom on Film4 on a Sunday afternoon, bearable enough to watch but a waste of time when you think about it. The story is so average and unexciting and has so little point to it that my friend and I seriously questioned what urged the author Laura Eason to write the play, and why on Earth Hampstead Theatre thought it was an interesting piece to mount.

Theo James may well be gorgeous, but Sex With Strangers isn't

The story starts with Olivia (Emilia Fox) sat alone in a B&B when suddenly, a young man named Ethan (Theo James) arrives at the door. It turns out they're both friends with the B&B's owner and they are both staying the night. They're also both authors: she had a failed book a few years ago and is planning a comeback, while Ethan is a glorified sex maniac who kept a blog about his random hookups for a year and then turned it into a two-part book series with a feature film to follow. At the retreat, they begin to connect and eventually have sex about 20 minutes after meeting. They then talk a bit the next day, and have sex again. And this happens a few more times until Ethan sets Olivia up with a career plan, tells her not to read his New York Times Bestselling memoir and flies away to LA to work on said book's feature film adaptation. Olivia reads the book, is horrified (and surprised, for some reason) that he so openly objectifies women and the first act ends. The second act then opens with no conflict and has a similar pattern of events back at Olivia's apartment as she becomes successful. The story is boring, pointless and has so little excitement to it, I almost felt like I had lost something by sitting in the theatre that evening.

Silent Witness star Emilia Fox in the Hampstead Theatre production of Sex With Strangers

I'm also unsure as to whether or not the actors were bad, or if they were just doing the best that can with some of the most rigid and awkward dialogue I've ever heard. Theo James was probably the weaker actor of the two, somehow managing to make his performance of the already cliche douchebag Ethan into a more cliche caricature of the stereotype. Emilia Fox was better and her performance didn't irk me as much, but Olivia was such a boring character that I lost interest anyway.

Not only were the performances and the text weak, but the direction was laughable. American director Peter DuBois may have a lot of theatre credits, but a lot of work a good director does not make. The opening scene is the perfect example of when I actually stifled laughter at how poor the direction was: the scene is a 20 minute dialogue between Olivia and Ethan and because it's entirely set in the living room, DuBois decided to make it less stagnant I suppose and moved the characters around... a lot. Theo James was hopping from sofa to sofa in the same conversation every ten lines or so and it was distracting and stupid. The same has to go for the wine they were pouring in the scene. In the space of fifteen minutes, Theo James had poured and drank almost two bottles of wine; if he wasn't moving to another seat to emphasise a witty quip he was making, he was pouring himself another glass of drink. My friend and I described it later on as being the kind of direction you'd see in a low-grade GCSE Drama performance: it was embarrassing.

Emilia Fox and Theo James as Olivia and Ethan respectively in Sex With Strangers

Sex With Strangers is a perfect example of a poorly-written star vehicle. It's a sub-standard play that casts two of Britain's most sexually attractive young actors for the sake of selling tickets to excitable teenage girls and it's a real shame to see, not only because Hampstead Theatre could do better than that, but also because I am sure the actors could as well.

Sex With Strangers at the Hampstead Theatre is sold out, but day seats are still available on the door and returns can be purchased online here.

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