Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Original it may not be but Ian Winterton’s play about Sherica, a prostitute who finds herself in a lust triangle with her messed up sister’s teacher and her school bully (who calls her “Special Needs”) is given such a furious pace and visual panache by director Trevor MacFarlane that one almost doesn’t notice. Yes, it’s one of those sex plays where all the sex seems to happen with pants on (or even trousers, in one case) and in which the characterisations seems largely defined by action rather than background, but although it may not be the most sophisticated play on the fringe, it is a very engaging and entertaining hour.
It has to be said that Sherica ticks off a fair few cliches along the way. Oliver Devoti’s warm-hearted but not-so-devoted husband Michael Feather has an attack of nerves moments into getting a massage from his regular pro, telling her “I read the Guardian, I don’t do this.” (Why is it always The Guardian that’s the butt of jokes about naff sexless peeople?) Later, somewhat inevitably, he announces that he loves her. Sex with his wife has become routine “like bleeding the radiator” he says, which seems a bit hard on his fellow-Feather (classy Katy Slater) who represents a mixture of randy and maternal which one would think was an ideal cocktail for any Guardian reader. (Even I’m doing it now.)
Sherica’s messed up younger sister, Natalie (intense Nicola Stebbings) turns out to be reading (and have learnt) Aeschylus in the playground between the covers of Harry Potter. If only all ne’er-do-wells did this. The headmaster, Mr Pope (David Slack amusingly channelling the spirit of Grange Hill’s Mr Bronson) is a believer in discipline and so wears military fatigues. It’s a wonder he doesn’t wield a cane, which cherubic William Hutchby’s 14 year-old Douglas would probably benefit from when not using the money of his Tory councillor father (yes) to see a hooker so that she can brush his hair and sing to him about Rupert Bear (when not felating him through his jeans). He’ll later blackmail Mr Feather to pay up £20,000 by Monday – has nobody told him there’s a recession on?
This is all good entertaining stuff, although the play disappointingly stops rather than ends, with no character appearing to have completed or resolved any kind of journey, for good or ill. It almost feels like there’s a scene missing. A shame.
Even so, the well-drilled company play it all with an honesty and energy that largely papers over the cracks in the plot, and is never less than engaging. Simon James Cookson’s ear-splitting sound design, accompanying the many speedy scene transitions and snap lighting changes, gives the play a dangerous, urban, slick feel which MacFarlane’s production brilliantly accommodates in the unusual playing space.
It’s not art but it’s very entertaining. And, amidst the plethora of worthy, arty, self-regarding, soporific shows that always populate the festival scene, what’s wrong with that?