The Sex Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

This is a story about a suburban sex party, set in a middle-class house in Islington. The play is set in the kitchen, all the libidinous stuff takes place off stage, in the lounge and we see the cast as they arrive and when they are taking a break from the action (as it were). I probably went with the wrong frame of mind; I was expecting a comedy or a farce. It does have some jokes (not enough) and some of the characters are mildly funny, but it certainly not a comedy.

The first act has a different tone to the second half. The first is lighter and I guess this is to introduce the characters, but just before curtains falls for the interval, a woman arrives and as soon as she heads off to the bathroom, there is hushed discussion as to whether or not she is trans. The second act is about whether she is, and how everyone feels about it.

The mood is darker, the dialogue is deeper, and suddenly we are in more confrontational territory. Now it is not a play about sex, but about gender, identity, misogyny and even racism. The concept is current, it is surely an issue of our time, but I felt the author wasn’t clear enough in his own head where he stood on the matter, to give his characters well-formed opinions. I think the time is right for a play that covers the boundaries between all these subjects, but this play’s characters did not present a broad enough spectrum of views to provide a good balance. I don’t wish to be unfair to the show, it is a good idea and I enjoyed it up to a point, but for my taste, the comedy parts weren’t quite funny enough and the debates were more shouting matches than cohesive arguments.

Having said that, the cast is strong, it is not often that you get an Oscar winner in a fringe play. Timothy Hutton was good, given his underwritten part. Molly Osborne was wry and likeable as Hetty, John Hopkins and Will Barton delivered their funny self-deprecating lines well. All the actors were good, and the set was done with a great deal of attention to detail. I really like the Menier Chocolate Factory as a theatre and it’s good to have it back presenting plays again.


Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory, London


The Menier Chocolate Factory has a history of showing great productions of Sondheim musicals, so I went in with high expectations. This American troupe has transferred here, from off Broadway, having had runs in Princeton and San Diego before that.

They bring a stripped down, lo-fi interpretation of “Into the Woods” that is perfectly suited to the intimate surroundings of this theatre. The whole show, including music, is performed by 11 actors and musicians multitasking, with limited props and set changes. The resourcefulness of the company turn this into an asset and the simple setting allows one to notice new details in the lines and new depths in the characters. All of the players are great, but Andy Grotelueschen is fabulous as both the cow (!) and as Rapunzel’s prince. Patrick Mulrayn, who plays Jack, can belt out a tune too.

The set is quirky and funny, it looks like the inside of a piano reimagined as a Victorian dolls house. I particularly liked the piano keys surrounding the stage.

Shows from the Chocolate Factory often transfer to the West End, and this one surely deserves to, you don’t often see the whole audience stand to clap at the end of a show in London – but don’t wait until it does transfer before you go because this theatre is the  perfect setting for such a gem.