While You Lie
Brave exploration of identity, the body and sexuality
This article is from 2010.
Sam Holcroft’s first piece for the Traverse, Cockroach, explored the interplay of genetics and politics. In this new play the conversation is continued, but here more specifically in the realm of sexual politics.
Ana (Claire Lams), a young emigrant woman who feels passed over as a secretary at her office and unattractive to her boyfriend (Andrew Scott-Ramsay) abruptly leaves her relationship, and instead offers sexual favours to her boss (Steven McNicoll) in return for promotion. He reveals an inclination to BDSM while his patient, suffering wife (Pauline Knowles) turns a blind eye to the affair in return for home improvements. Meanwhile, an executive for a charity offering plastic surgery in the developing world (Leo Wringer) becomes frustrated when his requests for donations constantly lose out against self-interest, an alarming augury for the ‘Big Society’.
Zinnie Harris’ production handles the tone of this piece, which treads the line between strong drama and farce with accomplished deftness, nicely integrating a recurrent theme about female anxieties over the body which might feel like carping in less skilful hands. Holcroft sets up a subtle and complex dialectic between biological urge and a series of flawed definitions of civilization: this piece has none of the simplistic ideological projections of The Selfish Gene about it, instead seeing its characters as influenced by shifting power relations created by unstable definitions of the self.
If the dénouement is a little too brusque for the play’s good, all of the performers work well with the material, with Wringer’s mad physician (the structurally crucial outside observer to the other characters’ madness), and McNicoll’s kinky boss both particularly strong. This is not a perfect play, but its brave consideration of identity, the body and sexuality make it compelling viewing.
Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 29 Aug (not 23), times vary, £15–£17 (£11–£12).