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Sex with a Stranger

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Not exactly what it says on the tin, Stefan Golaszewski’s skilfully constructed, painful-to-watch but very funny three-hander in the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios is a story of double-talk, a boys’ night out and a marriage turning slightly stale.

Working backwards from a night on the tiles where, after some serious clubbing, Russell Tovey’s married Adam is heading for instant sex in the park, and her flat, with Jaime Winstone’s amazing Grace (well, she lives five minutes from Homebase), the play unpicks the story behind Adam’s newly ironed shirt.

Meanwhile, Grace is “doing” her face and hair to hit the scene. The spare, minimal writing makes Harold Pinter look like Ronald Firbank. Some scenes are ten seconds long. Tentative chat-up is contrasted, like bright pins, with the wary notes of deceit as Adam wangles his night out from Naomi Sheldon’s doe-eyed, devoted Ruth. Ruth plays violin in an orchestra (one scene shows Adam slumped at the concert, the night after his outing). Even more surprisingly, we suddenly see Grace making a thank-you speech at her own wedding: is she married, too, and to the unseen “friend” she flat-shares with?

We are somewhere in Essex, near darkest Leytonstone. Adam is in sales, with ambitions in social media, Grace in recruitment. Adam was at college with Ruth, and there’s a sense in which he’s returning to his atavistic roots with Grace.

Tovey conveys, with the slightest of looks and gestures, an admiration for Grace’s unaffected bone-headedness, mixed with raw sex appeal, a refreshing change, perhaps, from Ruth’s eager niceness on a date in Pizza Express, and around the house, which she keeps very tidy.

Golaszewski, who writes BBC3’s Him & Her, made waves two or three years ago with his white-suited solo performances at the Traverse and the Bush. He’s a talent on the move, and his director Philip Breen has served up this play with real flair and deftness.

The acting of all three performers is unbeatable, perfectly pitched and nuanced in the tiny space, and while Tovey and Winstone are brilliant at falling guiltily and nervously into their tryst, Sheldon’s projection of misplaced trust and innate goodness becomes almost heart-breaking as she settles down on the sofa, betrayed and bookish.


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