BWW Reviews: STRAIGHT, Bush Theatre, December 5 2012
As high concepts go, it doesn't get much simpler: Two heterosexual male friends decided to make porn with each other. Instant intrigue. A plethora of questions. "Who are they? Why are they doing it? Will they go through with it, and how much of that will I get to see? That 'scenes of a sexual nature' warning at the box office had better not be for nothing." Alright, maybe not thoughts shared by every single audience member, but I'd wager by quite a few.
So addressing those questions in sequential order, 'they' are straight-laced Lewis (Henry Pettigrew) and wild'n'wacky Waldorf (Philip McGinley). Best mates at uni, they've drifted apart a decade later, with the former having gotten married and the latter having spent a huge amount of time travelling (having taken in countries including Cambodia, Sri Lanka and a "few of the -stans"). Waldorf shows up unexpectedly - the first we see of him is a certain body part waggling through the letterbox - and announces his intention to stay with Lewis and his wife, Morgan (Jessica Ransom), in their cosy but cramped studio flat.
An unseen night out with Steph (Jenny Rainsford), a new conquest of Waldorf's, leads to a drunken arrangement that they should make a pornographic film together, a suggestion which lingers the next morning, and becomes something they decide to pursue, both uncertain but unwilling to back down. Herein lies my only issue with the play - the question of "Why?". While they spend a good deal of time talking it through, the play struggles to explain exactly why these men want to do what they have agreed to do. The issue is more with the character of Lewis - one suspects Waldorf would happily mount anything that moves - and although Lewis describes feeling lost and how he wants to be able to say he's "tried things", the arrangement doesn't quite ring true. That said, so much about the play is so impressive that it's easy to brush off niggling doubts and to echo Waldorf when he's asked if he understands what Lewis means: "Just about, yeah."
The production has two major highlights, in the form of Jessica Ransom and the set design. The latter, by James Cotterill, is so detailed, precise and authentic, from the iPod dock on the kitchen windowsill to the empty glass and dog-eared glossy magazine beside the bed, that a couple of hours could be happily spent just looking at it. And Ransom, playing the (initially) carefree Morgan, is immensely watchable, believable and just hugely impressive. From her first lines (a very funny exchange with Lewis about keeping their imaginary baby in the oven due to space restraints), you want to know her, be her friend, and stop her from getting hurt. But hurt she is, and when she is upset, you feel it. The truth in her confession to Lewis about a past indiscretion provides the most impressive moment of the evening, and it is essentially only through her eyes that the basic premise of the play starts to make sense.
That's not to say the other performances aren't impressive; Philip McGinley has an ease of delivery and a roguish charm that makes him a tremendously enjoyable presence, and he provides the majority of the often raucous laughter. Jenny Rainsford makes the most of her limited stage time, making the stoned 'free spirit' Steph every bit as irritating as she those kinds of people invariably are, and Henry Pettigrew's Lewis is believable as the hemmed in man of caution. However, if there's any criticism to be made, it might be levelled at his delivery of the ambiguous final lines of both acts - they seem written to be beguiling and intriguing, yet come off a bit flat.
That aside, DC Moore's dialogue is brilliantly funny, and the script is littered with amusing accidental references to ‘the act’, in the way that everything seems to be about sex if you talk about it for long enough. The humour is mercifully free of the kind of blokey anti-gay jibes that one might expect, and despite my earlier dubiousness regarding how the two come to the arrangement, there is a crucial moment in the second act which suddenly ignites a very real-feeling sexual spark between these men, wordlessly blurring the lines of their supposed orientations and immediately turning a silly situation into an intimate and very intense one.
Hilarious, thought-provoking and lovely to look at, Straight is more than worthy of your time - and even if not all your questions are fully answered, as with so many things in life, it'll be a lot more satisfying if you stop resisting and just go with it.