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Review: Punts (Theatre503)

An irresistible new play about sex and materialism from Sarah Page

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Christopher Adams (Jack) and Florence Roberts (Julia) in Punts at Theatre503
© Claudia Marinaro

Jack, a 25 year-old with a learning disability, is a virgin – and his mum and dad believe he can think about nothing else. His rugby mates are sex-obsessed, and his parents want him to fit in. They show him porn (only the "good" type, mind), and then they arrange the visit of a prostitute - Julia, a nice lady of about the same age - to go about the business of popping his cherry.

An irresistible, murky new drama from Sarah Page, Punts lays bare the power relationships in sex and money. And then, through Jack, it ups the moral dubiousness by focusing on someone who has limitations in expressing himself; perhaps even in giving consent.

Its title is inspired by the slang for prostitutes' clients - or ‘punters' - the play considers the life of ‘punt': the person or thing apparently manipulated by forces outside of themselves. It's less concerned with the choices we make ourselves than with the choices we're not really sure we've made, or the choices clearly made for us by others.

That means we hear that Jack (Christopher Adams) ‘needs' to get his rocks off in his parents' words only. Julia (Florence Roberts), on the other hand, is an empowered figure, but her sex work is also the result of financial necessity. As for Jack's dad Alastair (Graham O'Mara), the hiring of a prostitute seems to invoke some nostalgic sense of the wild days before he met his wife and changed their lives forever - by accidentally impregnating her at a young age. Jack's mum Antonia (Clare Lawrence-Moody) – long since confined to the domestic sphere as a housewife – sees bringing in Julia to ‘fix' her son as a project which can be infinitely managed and controlled.

Or so she thinks: the big irony of Punts is that Jack is far more emotionally intelligent than his parents. The comedy – of which there's plenty – comes from his blunt truth-speaking about adult relationships. He tells his mother before his first "date" with Julia that he wants a splash of his father's cologne. "The good bottle," he stipulates. "Not the one you gave him last Christmas".

You'd expect a play about paying for sex to have something to say about materialism, and Punts has a broader setting than most. It happens in banal suburban London; in a universe where paying money for things could be assumed to bring happiness or normality. The scene transitions are filled with pulsating techno music and flashing neon lights. The sensory clutter of the red light district invades the sanctity of the middle-class family home, just as Julia enters the world of Alastair and Antonia to challenge their prissy views of who ‘good' people are. Unfolding in a series of compelling one-to-one encounters, this is a very fleshy 85 minutes.

Punts runs at Theatre503 until 24 June.

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