Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Special

Written and directed by John Keates
Fecund Theatre
Unity Theatre, Liverpool
(2007)

Production photo

Passion can be a very strange thing; it can be a dangerous thing; it can lead the curious or the unwary on a journey resembling madness. In Special, Fecund's latest production, Elisa Lasowski and Ian Golding play Emily and Steve, two nurses drawn by Emily's need and Steve's curiosity into the world of extreme BDSM, known to most of us as S and M, where pain is love and debasement is affection. In an intimately drawn 90 minutes, writer, director and designer John Keates leads the audience into the world of a couple who have stripped away all but the most savage of their inhibitions and joined together to explore the extremes of sensuality and experience. Emily needs to inflict pain, particularly on male genitalia which she does with considerable ingenuity and enthusiasm. Steve seeks to explore his own sexual amibiguity, his need to submit, his willingness to subject himself to Emily's tortures, both physical and emotional.

Aided by sensitive and courageous acting, Keates has created a glimpse of a world few ever see, or only see distorted by sensationalism. Emily and Steve's world is tender, intimate, but also as mundane as any close relationship and parts of the play are allowed to be boring, a brave decision which makes the shocks of the piece all the more shocking. Apparently Keates and his team spent two years working on Special and it shows; the characters are finally drawn and the nature of the fetish relationship is realistically and unflinchingly presented.

This particular night there was a BDSM support group in the audience on a group outing, which has to be close to a first for the Unity. Talking to them in the bar after the performance I was struck by how impressed they were by the reality of the piece, and by how relieved they were that they had been represented in an understanding manner. There are, apparently, countless details in Special which the non-BDSM or 'vanilla' member of the audience simply won't get but the insider will. Which did, in Liverpool at least, create a play of two audiences, half of them sitting there in horrified silence, the other half chuckling knowingly.

Special is not an easy piece, it has taken upon itself a challenge and it has met that challenge. For all its attacking of men's dinglies with sharp things it's a thoughtful, intelligent, considered piece about a subject matter most of its audience will recoil from. Special explores, in a deliberate and unhurried way, an extreme of human relationship and does so in a way that is brave and truthful. It is difficult, haunting, wonderful theatre. It will live with you long after the final curtain call and deserves to be seen. So see it.

"Special" is on tour until the 7th April.

Reviewer: Ged Quayle