Sex/Crime (Soho Upstairs)

Sex/Crime is a “dark comic queer thriller” written by Alexis Gregory and directed by Robert Chevara. It returns to London with some tweaks and changes after a run at The Glory in the East End. It proves to be an extremely disorientating experience: a tale of consummate game players, of a twisted kind of love.

There are two men in the room. It’s an attic full of plastic covers and hangings where transactional arrangements are carried out, utilising chemsex, BDSM, and reenactments of prominent gay murders by one serial killer – referred to only as “Him”. The service provider is ‘A’. The client is ‘B’. The game is an exploration of mind control, pain and death.

‘B’ (played by Gregory) is a happy masochist, “revved up” for death. He’s camp, devious, desperate and disturbed. As the macabre details of the killings which are offered as scenarios for reconstruction are outlined to him, he vigorously masturbates in disturbed delight. In one beautifully written passage in the play, he describes watching crime reports on the bank of TVs in a shop window “their faces before, smiling … mine reflected over them, smiling too”.

Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory as 'A' and 'B'.
Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory as ‘A’ and ‘B’.

‘A’ (played by Jonny Woo, who I’m more familiar with as a cabaret and drag artist) is an officious business man, with forms and work breaks; an effortless dominant who is in control of his scene. He’s assured, measured, professional. He’s detached from any emotional attachment, and focused on performing a service to his customers. At first, he’s in command, and is amusingly proud of “being good at [my] job”. But ‘B’ expects a lot more than ‘A’ may be prepared to give.

Utilising a form of stylised violence where light cues and sound effects take the place of actual boot or fist to body contact, Sex/Crime becomes much of a power play of the mind. The use of total blackouts did not quite work for me, feeling more of an artistic conceit than one to pull us into what we are hearing and not seeing, but later on, quick blackouts in a silent (fake?) ending are far more effective.

There are moments which are perplexing: the gimp, pig and clown masks which ‘B’ is seen wearing at different points in the narrative; the final scene with its silent “bravo”; the flashing lights outside as reality threatens to intrude from “the outside”. Other things work well: the moment ‘B’ stoops to lick ‘A’s boot, to experience the taste of the moment; the flash of something close to terror in the eyes of ‘A’ as the tables start to turn; the use of a lighter to illuminate a small corner of space adding a sense of disorientation to the audience and to ‘B’.

Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory as 'A' and 'B'.
Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory as ‘A’ and ‘B’.

The humour, too. ‘A’ dismissing “suburban perverts”, to which ‘B’ indignantly retorts “I’m not suburban”. Black comedy around the end of life: the story about “Dark Minnelli”, a twisted fairy tale told by ‘A’, weaving an increasingly ridiculous spell by storytelling, enacted with obvious relish by ‘B’.

This is a disturbing and disconcerting piece of theatre, running at just sixty minutes, which explores a slightly ‘off’ side of gay culture and brings the game of dominance and submission into a domestic setting. ‘A’ states he provides “an authentic experience”; ‘B’ claims he has “sold up” in anticipation of his own demise. Drugs and delusions, darkness and dungeons. Contact, closeness, contracted between two men who have their own agendas, even down to the options outlined for some kind of a relationship beyond the one which is couched in monetary terms.

Not for everyone, Sex/Crime is lit by Mike Robertson and designed by Rocco Venna. With pulsating music, cries and gasps, and spotlights, the small space is meant to challenge and confuse. I felt this play ultimately achieved that aim.

Sex/Crime continues until 1 February at Soho Upstairs. Production photo credits by Matt Spike.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Sex/Crime.