views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Sexes
Etcetera Theatre
15th August 2015


Jaacq Hugo and Laura Louise Baker as Jackie and Lars

Photography provided by The Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company

Never mind a third wheel, there are four in this marriage. Lars (Laura Louise Baker), Jackie (Jaccq Hugo) and their giant egos. Having just finished a show together, the two of them are backstage when Lars excitedly reveals to his wife that old friend Billy has just told him about a new script featuring "a dead pimp and a Polish orphan girl". The part of the hooker is up for grabs, and he intends to play it as a male prostitute. Jackie scoffs at this suggestion, believing that the hooker should be a female, and more specifically, it should be her. The idea of playing a genderless tragic lead in The Next Big Thing is too tempting for Jackie to let pass her by, and rather than supporting her husband, she instantly goes for the kill. Years of resentment and bitterness are dredged up, initially with little passive aggressive swipes, then the sparring becoming more overtly cruel.

The arguments between Lars and Jackie in The Sexes are downright toxic. The pair compete for the crown of who has suffered the most, and pick apart each other's acting skills in a horrendously destructive fashion, referencing previous work with mock reenactments. Not only does each face a hugely personal attack, it's by a fellow artist, and one who happens to be their spouse. You couldn't get more hurtful than this. You can't help but flinch inwardly as they lay into each other. Due to the nature of their jobs, it's hard to be sure how much is real and how much is acted out simply to try to win the fight, however you do know that the intention is inescapably dark, getting more so with each new outburst.

Hugo is dressed in black leggings, with a slinky black top with hints of glitter running through it. His makeup is pristine; his face perfectly evened out by foundation, his eyebrows sculpted with precision and his lips coated in a luscious red colour. He constantly looks ahead, preening then preening some more with invisible tools, exuding glamour. Baker by contrast dons an unfitted white shirt, white boxers and white socks. Her clothing is far more masculine, also also shows a distinct lack of care for her character's appearance. This should be the time to wind down and relax for both protagonists, but you can tell Jackie just isn't the sort of woman to let herself go, not even for a moment, and not even privately. Lars sits down and stretches out, whereas his wife continues to beautify herself, thinking of the afterparty to come and the admiring glances that will fall on her.

Witer and director Polis Loizou keeps the staging minimal and the clothing as well - it would be easy to go that one step further and give the actors wigs to wear, emphasising their reversed genders, but there's no real need. It comes across in their mannerisms and dialogue. With Loizou also being a performer by trade, he knows exactly how much pain the couple are inflicting on each other and draws this out in their delivery, with lingering expressions and silences, as they both hit out and reel. The Sexes is a surprisingly powerful show, which harnesses the simplicity of a black box theatre to great effect. It's all about wordplay and power play.

You could argue that the gender inversion forces us to confront our own expectations and prejudices of so-called male and female behaviours. Whilst this makes a great hook to get audiences into the show, I think you could actually cast this gender blind and no matter the sexes of the protagonists, the impact would still be there. For me, this really isn't about the battle of the sexes at all, it's about the tragedy of a failing partnership which has been standing on dodgy foundations for quite some time. It's horribly bleak, and yet compelling to watch unfold.

The Sexes opened on 12th August and runs until 16th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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