Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Slap

Alexis Gregory
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Team Angelica and Exact Content
Theatre Royal Stratford East

Rikki Beadle-Blair’s production of Alexis Gregory’s play about a transsexual sexworker, her boyfriend and a client is in-yer-face and sometimes in-yer-lap. It isn’t presented in the theatre but in a new performance space opposite the Theatre Royal where the audience is right in black-bustiered Dominique’s boudoir.

In an instant blending of real and surreal, the walls that frame the action (and screen the show from passers-by) are glittering strips of gold foil. It matches the tawdry glamour of the way that Dominique presents herself, though her posturing masks a hidden pain like the slap with which she paints her face.

Despite the now of its physical reality, some of the action played out has already happened and an even earlier past is described in this multi-layered revelation as what is often bitchily funny turns dangerously dark.

Pre-op Dominique describes herself as “a work in progress”. Alexis Gregory tosses back her mane of black hair and confidently struts on her six-inch shiny black heels but he makes sure you can see the desperation bubbling beneath that apparent control. She can handle a punter but not her own life.

There’s a man at the door: he’s a client with whom she was supposed to be having dinner in a restaurant but she’s still at home with boyfriend drug-dealer Danny still in the bathroom. In fact they both want to marry her.

Frankie Fitzgerald looks like a grown-up Tin Tin as Danny, the Cockney boy who started dealing as his dad’s runner in the days when he discovered his Action Man didn’t have a dick and wondered whether Barbie might have one. He may have one disaster after another—Dominique says “they call you Titanic ‘cause you got a habit of taking everyone down with ya”—but his boyish charm is engaging even as he lies in the bath smoking crystal meth, his tales of his childhood endearing.

Nigel Fairs plays John, the client besotted with Dominique, who at first seems a rather pathetic cipher, sober suit and bow tie hiding a secret fetishist, but Fairs also shows a man who understands things best of all of them in this intertwined tragic trio.

It is a play of complexity that isn’t always easy to decipher as it ranges through relationships, sexuality and family but it gets a full-blooded performance of great immediacy and an underlying sincerity. It is a bold piece of writing that takes unexpected directions.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton