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Review: Sex with Strangers is a shade saucy

Comedy drama focuses on a succession of thorny issues

09 February, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Emilia Fox and Theo James in Sex With Strangers. Photo: Manuel Harlan

at Hampstead Theatre

MEETING for the first time at a remote guest house frequented by writers, Olivia is preparing to curl up on the sofa with a nice glass of red, when Ethan arrives and shakes her evening up completely.

Obviously it’s a very good-looking pairing – that the slender, dainty Olivia (Emilia Fox) and the athletic and handsome Ethan (Theo James) would find each other attractive is easy to believe. But, for some, how quickly they go from sharing some wine to flinging their clothes off and going for it on the coffee table may be a tad shocking.

This is the kind of show that certainly has a target audience and its ideal crowd are probably the same kind of people who take Facebook quizzes to reveal which of the Sex and the City characters they most resemble.

Struggling writer Olivia is prepared to engage sexually but is reluctant to share herself emotionally and intellectually with Ethan. Plus the fact that he’s made a career out of documenting his sexual exploits gives her much to ponder and indeed agonise over.

Successful blogger Ethan seems to exhibit a somewhat spilt personality. He’s very attentive towards Olivia, but his views on the women who have gone before her are comparatively bleak.

This comedy drama, written by Laura Eason, is a funny, modern two-hander that focuses on a succession of thorny issues.

Olivia is a good decade older than Ethan and, although she professes to like it that way, she does come across as embarrassed that he is so much more tech savvy than she is. Equally, he is in awe of her talent and credibility – but, as the play progresses, it’s difficult to ascertain whether they are more impressed by each other or mutually envious.

Given that both actors are English, their American accents (to an admittedly homegrown ear) are convincing.

Their attraction is believable and their chemistry is truly explosive.

The play – much like the pair’s relationship – is not perfect, but Olivia and Ethan’s connection does beautifully illustrate how intoxicating empathy, understanding and admiration can be. It also poignantly demonstrates how jealousy, suspicion and envy can quickly turn things toxic.

Until March 4
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