I Promise You Sex and Violence

Northern Stage’s production of I Promise You Sex and Violence is a critique of modern attitudes to homophobia, racism and sexuality. It looks at how middle-class perceptions of what it is acceptable to think and share with others are constantly changing. While entertaining in parts, the script - which sets out to shock the audience with its message - falls short of insight and sits somewhere between comedy and drama, often feeling like the performers are not quite sure which it is.

The three-strong cast give impressive performances

The writing for the main part is well observed and sharp, with the initial exchanges between the characters working particularly well between Charlie and Bunny (sex-obsessed feminist and gay best friend) with a warm relationship recognisable as the banter of best mates. However, towards the end of the play the writing becomes more stilted and at times it feels like the writer has prioritised the provocative over character progression or narrative.

The three-strong cast give impressive performances, Keith Fleming being the standout of the three as Bunny, a gay man struggling to figure out his darkest sexual desires and their acceptability. His intense outbursts occasionally seem out of place but he carries the role through with great conviction. The awkward initial scenes between Reuben Johnson and Esther McAuley are comically stilted, the characters endearingly inept in their approach to dating and conversation, which makes the later revelations about their characters’ sexual whims all the more shocking.

The relatively simple set-up for the production belies the incredibly interesting issues touched upon, including the idea of racial identification: one of the characters is mixed race and chooses to identify as white. While this is an issue that I have seen dissected in relation to sexuality and gender choice, it is not something that is often addressed in relation to race. It’s a brave move by the writer and one that must be applauded for its honest and thought-provoking presentation. However, the overall impression from the show is that of a fractious kitchen-sink drama which comes close to breaking the mould but can’t help but fall short.

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Performances

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The Blurb

David Ireland’s brutal and hilarious satire of love and hate dives into the darkest heart of the modern love story. Boy meets girl meets boy meets crippling sexual neurosis. It’s not easy out there when you have no idea who you are supposed to be, no idea how to behave and everyone else seems to be an asshole. This new play from the team behind award-winning What the Animals Say **** (Scotsman). I Promise You Sex and Violence will definitely delight, possibly horrify and probably arouse you. It’s both sexy and violent.

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