Sex With Strangers, Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘Theo James is a lost boy looking for love’

PUBLISHED: 10:04 15 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:04 15 February 2017

Emilia Fox and Theo James in Sex With Strangers at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Emilia Fox and Theo James in Sex With Strangers at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Archant

Talky two-hander fires blanks, missing the chance to probe identity in the internet age, but Theo James is the real deal

You can’t complain that Laura Eason’s two-hander fails to deliver what it says on the tin. Within minutes of Theo James’ brash blogger Ethan stalkily pitching up at a snowy Michigan writing retreat, he’s hustled Emilia Fox’s underachieving novelist Olivia into bed, then onto the table, then in the chair.

He’s a tech-savvy millennial who’s got rich from an exploitative blog about his sexual gymnastics with strangers in bars. She’s a gifted generation X-er who abandoned writing after her first book was ‘misunderstood’ but remains hooked on an analogue publishing world of lit prizes and real books.

In a reverse of Fred and Ginger, she gives him class and he gives her sex, as he uses his web audience and notoriety to get her work noticed, while yearning for

the association with quality writing.

What could be a knotty duel airing issues of identity and how the virtual world impacts on real world relationships, is dull, talky and largely humourless in Eason’s supposed comedy.

Her previous Hampstead Theatre offering, Rapture Blister Burn, also starring Fox, felt like a feminism seminar in six inch heels. Here Fox struggles with the accent and limitations of a part that requires her to be pure-hearted, wide-eyed and largely passive. Worse in Peter DuBois’ production which fails to make the sex sexy, she never convinces as either a brilliant writer or passionate lover.

When she overhears Ethan’s sexist boasting of conquests, she lookes quizzical rather than unsettled – does she allay her fears through ambition over what he can do for her? Who knows.

James, a British darling of Hollywood movies has more to chew on and is both physically at ease and watchably nuanced as the predatory, self-loathing Ethan, self-medicating in response to being boxed in by the frat-boy misogynist of his 19-year-old self. Olivia calls him “dangerous”. This might’ve been more interesting if he was, More movingly he’s a lost boy looking for love.

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