A drama about drama, The Sexes is a determined attempt in how to do a show with no props at all, relying entirely on dialogue, and where necessary, mime, to tell its story. Lars (Laura Louise Baker) and his wife Jackie (Jaacq Hugo) – the gender roles are reversed here – have a row, like most couples do.
There is little in this elongated argument that has not been seen before, with life beginning to imitate art (or is the other way around?), and a long-standing couple in such a deep verbal spat that the audience is left wondering if we could see the parting of the ways before the show is over.
That a male actor is playing a female character and vice versa is worth mentioning; while boys played women in Shakespeare’s time, in this day and age swapping genders is less common, and where it does happen, it is often for minor parts in shows with many characters, or drag queens in musicals. I have no qualms with this so-called ‘gender bending’; indeed, there should be more of it, to give audiences a different perspective on characters.
There’s a line where Jackie praises Lars for a particular performance, in which the first 10 minutes were very good, but the rest of it was below par. There’s another line in which Lars is upset because there’s a review of that same performance that was not exactly gushing with superlatives. It is debatably cruel to say that these are metaphors for The Sexes itself. But in a play where hypocrisy and historic secrets are brought out into the open, and the sometimes shocking truth is revealed, it would be even crueller not to be as brutally truthful about the play as the play itself is.
There are moments of humour: Jackie’s devastating put-downs are witty and occasionally insightful, as is Lars imagining what Jackie’s acceptance speech and post-ceremony red carpet interview would be at the Academy Awards (the point being that it would never ever happen). However, some of the dialogue is extremely slow-paced, and many of the long pauses were too long and too awkward.
Perhaps it was the venue: above a pub, where the raucous Friday night throng is enjoying themselves downstairs and the din of conversation and music is leaking into the theatre upstairs. I think, however, this play just doesn’t sit very well with much of the rest of the Camden Fringe performances, some of which struggle (if that’s the right word) to cram in all their material into an hour, or else go at a breakneck pace to do so. Here, the silences are so long that at one point I began to make a grocery shopping list in my head, and at another I wondered if this show would actually be better titled ‘The Silences’.
But, looking at it another way, the subtle approach of The Sexes is welcome. I would not have liked to have seen a couple yelling at each other for an hour, and I am pleased the show was never in danger of being melodramatic and pretentious. And there’s nothing wrong with storytelling and nothing else – not even a scene change. If storytelling is old-fashioned, then perhaps so is breathing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Lars (Laura Louise Baker) and Jackie (Jaacq Hugo) are a married couple of actors whose star is starting to fade. When an old friend resurfaces with a bold new film script, Lars and Jackie find themselves in competition with each other to land the gender-unspecified lead role. The knives are out. Old wounds are picked afresh, as both husband and wife are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about their marriage and themselves.
Having first performed the piece in 2010 before taking it on a UK festival tour in 2011, award-winning* The Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company is reviving ’The Sexes’ with a fresh new script and look for its Camden Fringe debut.
Camden Fringe: The Sexes
15 August 2015 – 16 August 2015 at 4:00pm
Saturday 15th August 2015