''Sex Cells'' at Riverside Studios by Anna Longaretti features good attention to detail, and provides two hours of easy-watching drama
Lilian is in her fifties, has a loveless marriage, and sells sizable dildos for a living. She is also alienated from her son, and it is the steady recovery of their relationship that is at the heart of this tender and intelligent comedy.
As Lilian, Jean Perkins manages a careful balance of bravado and vulnerability. As call centre manager Mr Causeway, whose fondness for Lilian is the play's secondary plot line, Tom Butcher captures nicely the charming awkwardness of a quietly passionate man who wears cardigans, and brings to mind an unlikely hybrid of Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth and Gromit's mate Wallis.
Setting a play in the office of a sex-toy company runs the risk of going over-board on the cheap toilet humour. But writer Anna Longaretti manages this risk skillfully, taking advantage of the sexy environment to win several laughs (dildos come in small, medium or liar) without ever neglecting the important emotional threads that lend the play its charm and momentum.
There is a lovely attention to detail here. When Silvie is recounting to Janice her latest pregnancy setback, the latter punctuates her thoughtful responses with quick sniffs of her armpits. Seemingly incidental, I know, but such things do a lot to suggest the full texture of a character's consciousness, which, in turn, lends the performance a useful veracity. Whether such details are the work of director James Barry, or the writer, or the actors themselves, matters little. What matters is that the play is the better for them.
The writing has a maturity and discipline that bodes well for Longaretti as an emerging playwright. She articulates heavy emotions exceedingly well, and playfully undercuts it all with some delicious wry humour. The result is two hours of easy-watching drama. A rare achievement indeed.