Monday, 17 December 2007

Influenced, by Rowan Ellis, Dec 16, 2007

by Rowan Ellis
La Mama, until Dec 16, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is a good idea behind Rowan Ellis’s dark comic play, Influenced, but it has not fulfilled its potential. The balance of verbal gags and exploration of the grim underbelly of sexual deviance is uncomfortable.

Ellis plays Nick, a nervous punter who visits Sasha, a funky, young prostitute played by Megan Alston. Nick, the son of a stand-up comic from the north of England, has an annoying habit of making lame jokes out of every confronting situation and visiting a hooker for the first time seems to be top of his list of uncomfortable moments.

The problem is that every time the dramatic tension in the play begins to rise, Nick’s gags undermine the drama and the relationship temperature plummets to zero. Alston drapes herself seductively across the bed pouting and wriggling like a Persian cat wanting strokes but there is really no sexual tension in the room.

The ups and downs of their communication become repetitive and Nick’s gags become irritating – particularly because they are not funny. Of course Nick is supposed to be a socially incompetent ninny but, as an audience, we still need to have some sympathy for his predicament and to have a laugh.

The two actors, directed by Clayton Buffoni, never really connect with the characters and the frequently trite dialogue feels forced and lacks truth. They both look awkward, not with the material with which they are dealing, but rather with the acting process. Ellis’s comic timing needs work and his dialogue is often incomprehensible.

There is some attempt to cross the boundaries of taste and make the audience feel uncomfortable which is always a good way to make an impact. Nick and Sasha’s first interaction is when he discovers she has a condom lodged where the sun don’t shine and they eventually use kitchen tongs to solve the problem.

It is interesting that both the characters have secret sexual obsessions although the details of these are never clarified.  Nick reveals a preoccupation with his parents’ relationship and we assume he wants Sasha to role-play his mother. He also lets slip a history of violence so perhaps he might hurt Sasha. Rather disappointingly, neither of these scenarios comes to fruition.

Sasha has a sexual history with her stepfather and has fantasies of him siting in her “magic chair” watching her with clients.

In the end Influenced is an unsatisfying play that plants a few dramatic options but does not give us the pay off.

By Kate Herbert

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