Theatre Review: Sexual Perversity in Chicago


This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Following their successful Manchester Rep Season, it’s clear that 1956 Theatre don’t shy away from a challenge. Last year the company tackled four plays in just four weeks, from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger to the ambitious and original Juke Box Baby.  This year, they return to Salford Arts Theatre with a fresh take of the risque play Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

Written by David Mamet, Sexual Perversity in Chicago examines the sex lives of two men and two women living in Chicago in 1976. The main plot revolves around Danny and Deborah, a young couple who attempt to have a live-in relationship, but the true story is about their separate friends, Bernie and Joan, and the influence they have on the couple. The play has enjoyed successful stage runs in the West End and on Broadway and is the inspiration behind the 1986 and 2014 films About Last Night.

Sharp, witty and at times caustic, Sexual Perversity in Chicago is a funny and painful dig at the human mating game. While the subject matter may not as fresh or daring as it was forty odd years ago, the underlying theme of the sexual politics between men and women hasn’t actually changed much since the 1970s.

The key driver of Mamet’s play is the harsh and heated dialogue between the characters. The immensely talented actors do a fantastic job of tackling the fast-paced, complex and at times, vulgar script with a degree of accuracy and precision that is sure to test even the most talented.

Daniel Bradford is superb as Danny, the young and naive lead protagonist who craves love and sex but can’t handle closeness. Amy-Jane Ollies is equally good as Deborah, his young, hopeful girlfriend who is ultimately disappointed by sex and love.

Hannah Ellis Ryan delivers a stinging performance as Joan, Deborah’s bitter and cynical roommate.  Her acid tongued monologues and scathing personal cynicism of men is a sharp contrast to the innocence and hopefulness of her housemate Deborah.

But the star of the show is undoubtedly Lee Lomas as Bernie, Danny’s misogynistic friend and boss. Lomas breezes through the fast, elaborate dialogue with ease and perfect comic timing, as brags about his sexual conquests while carefully manipulating his so-called friend.

Scenes are broken up by a 70s soundtrack of disco classics and pop favourites. Disappointingly, a few hiccups with the lighting and sound resulted in the actors having to shout over the music at the start of some scenes, interrupting the flow of the performance. The plot is also a little loose at times but the excellent cast performances manage to pull it through to the sad but funny finale.

Witty, intense and multi-layered, Sexual Perversity in Chicago is a wild and entertaining take on the sexual politics between men and women, exquisitely performed by 1956 Theatre.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Runs until 28 March

Reviewer: Donna Kelly