Written and directed by Michael Kingsbury
Finborough Theatre

title image

Michael Kingsbury’s erotic comedy ends the Finborough’s ‘new British plays season’ with the promise of an evening of sophisticated entertainment as two London couples come together for what used to be called ‘wife swapping.’

Their sexual encounter is neither part of the metropolitan club scene, nor a hit and miss affair of car keys and furtive groping.

Forty-six-year old Matthew and his wife Naomi, happily married but perhaps a little bored with each other, instead have placed a soberly worded advertisement in the contacts column of a listings magazine, offering dinner, accommodation and ‘shared pleasures’ to follow.

Ryan and his 24-year old girl-friend Kelly, who claim to be looking for an older couple for ‘mutual fulfilment,’ seem the perfect match. Photographs are exchanged and a date fixed, which both parties accept on the strict understanding that this will be a one-night stand, with final farewells after breakfast.

Of course, it doesn’t work out like that or there would be no plot beyond the foreplay and the afterglow. To begin with there’s a huge class chasm between the Islington professionals with their fine wines and expensive furnishings, and the chavs from South London, deep in debt, who may (or may not) have their eyes on the main chance.

Even before their guests arrive, Naomi seems less eager than Matthew to share her love life with strangers, and dinner is a fraught affair ending awkwardly with a mildly sexy two-step to an Englebert Humperdinck dance number, and some abandoned kissing before a discreet fade-out.

Kingsbury displays a real talent for writing sharp, titillating exchanges and sustained scenes. But his wandering narrative, with its stop-go switches of mood and motive, never quite resolves what keeps these mismatched swingers still at it for three nights: unseen by us when upstairs in the bedroom and shower; or downstairs in the dining room, where they increasingly pick quarrels over money, jealousy and rejection as the fun turns to frost.

Indeed, one begins to wonder if they still have jobs to go to, and whether the youngsters are plotting to become bossy cuckoos in the nest, perhaps with a bit of discreet blackmail on the side. But when the front door finally — and somewhat unexpectedly — slams on the departing guests it seems odd that neither Naomi nor Matthew goes off to count the silver.

But if motivation and character are loosely defined to suit the passing moment, the four interlocking performances are never less than watchable.

Julia Swift with a tawny mane plays the doughty Naomi enjoying the attention of a younger man, but coolly standing her ground when the going gets rough. As her smugly confident husband, Robin Sneller’s Matthew, an industrial psychologist, revels in the touch of firm female flesh while pompously giving Ryan free pep talks on how to succeed in business.

Simon Quarterman plays the younger man, a potential source of trouble like a coiled spring of resentment and self-conscious cockiness, carrying off his designer sportswear with style.

The production’s trump card is MyAnna Buring’s nubile Kelly, a creature of eager sexuality with an extensive wardrobe of fashionable clothes and shoes, wrapping herself seductively around Matthew, limber enough to sustain a long scene of serious physical workout on a yoga mat, while the guys exchange harsh words on either side.

Praise is also due to designer Polly Sullivan whose elegant black and white dining-room setting helps establish an atmosphere of comfortable high living, with an abstract painting on one wall, facing an opposite backdrop of translucent panels which, although this is a London fringe production, looks as if no expense has been spared in pursuit of moneyed luxury.

Reviewer: John Thaxter

Are you sure?