After a chance meeting in a bar, Rachel (Elf Lyons) and Nick (Nicholas Armfield) head back to hers for a one-night stand. On night turns into two and then an ongoing hook-up and complicated relationship. The first 20 minutes or so are like a gentle kinky romantic comedy; the couple meet, get together and after lots of sex in lots of different places, decide to expand their sex life a little bit more. There are lot of laughs to be found in Lisa Carroll’s script, and it is all sex positive, with no shame placed on anyone’s interest in the bedroom, unsurprising given that this particular story focuses on pegging.
Both the script and Lyons’ performance keeps Rachel’s shields up, always up. In some ways it hurts the story, never allowing for us to get to know her, resulting in not much meat to the role. When we do occasionally get to see more under the surface of Rachel, especially in her reaction to her drunken father’s ranting, we finally get the opportunity to see Lyon’s talents. Armfield has much more to do, from Nick’s early filtration to his sexual journey, and the emotional impact of his relationship. He also gets to take on some extra comedy playing Rachel’s boss, complete with full Irish accent. Both bounce the comedy well off one another, but the emotional pieces and their relationship never quite click into place.
Each scene has an amusing title displayed on caption, while the red velvet curtain draws back to reveal a series of sex toys and a large neon cock. Cara Evans’ set nicely leaves the selection of dildos on display throughout – reinforcing that their relationship resolves only around sex.
As it goes on, The Misandrist often repeats its jokes. While it starts as kinky, funny and, at times, even sweet, it soon becomes predictable and repetitive. It’s a shame as there are plenty of good laughs and enough strong moments within the script. It also runs too long, two hours and twenty, and the interval just arrives, not tied in with any story beat or event. It feels unnecessary, a judicious edit could really let the script’s strengths shine and cut the running time without losing anything.
A late monologue from Rachel feels out of place; a long list of the ways that men behave badly and whilst all true it doesn’t feel like they come from the character but instead the writer stepping forward. It’s undoubtably powerful and receives an immediate audience reaction, but it feels plucked from another play, another script.
Is the play aiming to be subversive? There are certainly issues about consent and abuse raised, but they are then almost entirely unaddressed. After Nick stops consenting to the sex acts and their relationship moves further into abuse, yet it seems we are still supposed to root for them as a couple. It feels off. If the intention was to interrogate a gender swapped approach to the theme of male sexual violence, the play doesn’t do enough to bring this out.
Unfortunately the early spark between the characters fails to ever get past the humour. Although the script deserves praise for never inviting us to laugh at their kink, it falls short in delving deeper into their relationship or supplying substantial insights into their characters. This potential could be fully realised with a discerning edit that allows the script’s strengths to truly shine.
Written by: Lisa Carroll
Directed by: Bethany Pitts
Design by: Cara Evans
The Misandrist plays at Arcola Theatre until 10 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.