Does a banana muffin and a coffee make for a balanced dinner? I think not. But it’s all I had time to grab as I headed over to Notting Hill after work yesterday to see the Gate Theatre’s production of The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents.
I had some problems with this one I must admit. It’s a play designed to unsettle – and it does, but not I suspect, always in the ways intended. The play is about a girl called Dora who has learning disabilities and has been on medication since she was a child. Her mother decides to take her off the pills, which have kept her docile, to lift the ‘pharmaceutical curtain’ and rediscover who her daughter is inside. This device is used to explore Dora’s sudden sexualisation. Off the pills, she becomes increasingly uninhibited and fascinated with the physical.
It wasn’t the subject matter that made me feel a little squirmy, rather the play itself, which felt primarily as if it were out to press buttons, to provoke a response, which is fine to a point, but I thought here it was trying a little too hard. It had this overly slick quality, making it near-impossible to get an emotional hook on the action or the characters.
The set appears to have been designed to make the characters look like part of an installation or an experiment, with the audience looking down on them from either side of the stage. The space is filled with a number of black blocks, which the cast shift around as the scene changes require. These scene changes are denoted by little bursts of music (triggered by the actors pressing a buzzer in the corner), during which they dance around, lifting one another up or occasionally jumping over one of the black blocks. There is even a little paper screen that they jump through at the start and I must admit when this happened I did jot the words ‘Legz Akimbo!’ down in my notepad (a reference to the 'educational' theatre troupe in The League Of Gentlemen, if that needs to be clarified).
That’s perhaps a bit harsh, I think I could see what was trying to be achieved, I just thought all these little theatrical devices worked against the material – in fact, I thought the main problem here was the material itself, I just don’t think it was a very good play to start with, too obvious, too button-pushy, as I said. The girl playing Dora, Cath Whitefield, was very good though, pitching the role just right I thought, giving the play a necessary human centre. The play was only ninety minutes long but I felt more than a little fidgety towards the end, though I concede this may have something to do with the twin-pronged sugar and caffeine attack on my system. I should really learn to stick with the gin.