Ollie (Charles Reston) is a nice guy, a bit submissive, a bit insecure. Lola (Antonia Kinlay) is a confident portrait artist who doesn’t like to be told what to do. When she posts an advert on Facebook looking for nude models, Ollie, determined to come out of his shell, decides to apply.
We first see them together in Lola’s elaborately furnished studio. She’s explaining what the job entails and he’s so eager to please that he unwittingly keeps saying all the wrong things. He’s tender whilst she’s coarse, making us feel for his awkward behaviour. At this point, there’s no way to foresee the direction their conversation is about to take.
As he strips for the session, his vulnerability is exposed. A couple of nervous jokes about his physical features are quickly shut down by the artist, visibly annoyed by his verbal diarrhoea. She tries to get on with her work, whilst his conversation goes in circles, insisting on his Beta Male status. Supposedly, he wants to make her feel more comfortable. In reality, he’s the one looking for reassurance.
As the conversation unfolds, under a stark, unchanging lighting, we discover the pair met previously eight years ago at a mutual friend’s party. He seems to remember every moment of that night, whereas she claims to have no recollection of it – or, perhaps, she just doesn’t want to.
Sharp lines chase each other in quick repartee, whilst we’re gradually let into the chilling details of what initially seems an endearing encounter. The development is so startling that even the heckler on the first row, who loudly chuckled throughout the first fifteen minutes, is finally, definitively, silenced.
Both actors offer a superb embodiment of relatable situations. The tears and shivering we see on stage are so real that we can feel delusion and regret sipping through those painful memories. As bare and defenceless as Ollie looks, we’re compelled to empathise with his mistakes, almost taking pity on his clumsy lack of judgement. Yet, just when we’re about to do so, he once again lets us down, reconfirming what a coward he can be when pushed by circumstances.
Eventually, Lola finds closure, while Ollie is left burning with shame in a tense fifty-minute two-hander that leaves us unsettled while serving up plenty of food for thought. When the lights go up, not only do we want, but we feel the urge to talk about it, unable to make up our minds. We feel we should discuss further the concept of consent, whether it is ever open for interpretation, and if we can ever find nuances to it. The answer is obvious and yet Ollie is such a nice guy that we really can’t believe what he did.
Author: Hew Rous-Eyre
Director: Max Elton
Producer: Bitter Pill Theatre
Box Office: 020 7226 8561
Booking Link: https://system.spektrix.com/kingsheadtheatre/website/eventdetails.aspx?WebEventId=stripped
Booking Until: 16 September 2019