Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

I Promise You Sex and Violence

David Ireland
Northern Stage
Northern Stage, Newcastle

Keith Fleming and Esther McAuley
Keith Fleming and Reuben Johnson

A play which features masturbation, blow-jobs, pussy eating, vaginas, penises, rape, homosexuality, misogyny, homophobia and racism—it's got to be Sarah Kane, hasn't it? Or at least a Kane-copycat?

Well no, actually. It's David Ireland's I Promise You Sex and Violence directed by Lorne Campbell at Northern Stage. Where Kane would have been in your face, horrifying and painful, this is a rom-com with added sex and non-PC-ness thrown in.

Gay (or possibly bi-) Bunny (Keith Fleming) shares a flat with Charlie (Esther McAuley) who, in shame at having given a blow-job to a Tory fan of Michael Gove in a toilet, wants to recover her credibility and fulfil a long-held ambition by sleeping with a black man.

Bunny tells her that his best friend of many years, Queue (Reuben Johnson), is black so he offers to set up a date between them. However it turns out that Queue is actually mixed-race and thinks of himself as white—and he has no idea that Bunny is gay, although they've known each other since school.

Cue tons of confusion and accusations of homophobia, racism and misogyny, along with Bunny being interrupted by Charlie while masturbating, the waving around of a dildo, Charlie wearing a black duvet cover that looks like a burka and (simulated and meant to be comic) male fellatio.

So, more rom-farce than rom-com, then? Or even porno-rom-farce?

Not porno, no—for, apart from Bunny's masturbation scene at the beginning (which, in any case, is done with his back to the audience on a darkened stage, although he is in his boxers—no trousers, a staple of farce) and the fellatio mentioned above, all the sex and violence is verbal rather than actual.

The title seems to invite us either to luxuriate in or be horrified by the subject matter. The publicity material calls it "brutal and hilarious" but it's neither. I was reminded of little children trying to shock their parents by repeating all the naughty words they know: "Bum, wee, poo, pee, knickers, bra..." There are moments of humour—yes, I did laugh from time to time—but they are just moments.

The characters are pretty two-dimensional, with Bunny being the most developed (comparatively!) whilst poor Esther McAuley has to try to reconcile Charlie's committed feminism with fantasies of being raped—and actually having sex with a Tory. As for Queue, his character veers widely to wherever might get the most laughs.

There was laughter from the audience but hilarity was in short supply and the applause at the end was polite rather than enthusiastic.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan