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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Sluts of Sutton Drive

by Sebastian King

You need to learn to love your sexuality, Steph. A womanís sexuality is her power. Itís not like it was when our mothers were young, when they had to be ugly and mean so they could get equal rights or whatever. — Sharice
The Sluts of Sutton Drive
Kelly Burke and Georgia Buchanan (Photo: Richard Davenport)
Imagine if Desperate Housewives had been directed by Quentin Tarantino. Or if Thelma and Louise had been written by Martin McDonagh. Throw in a healthy pinch of David Lynch, and a nod towards Muriel's Wedding and you might come close to getting a taste of the deliciously disturbing world conjured up by American playwright Joshua Conkel in this, his UK debut.

Recently widowed Stephanie Schwartz (Georgia Buchanan) is not in a happy place. Her biker boyfriend Will (James Hillier) is too sexually demanding for her; her monosyllabic son Jayden (Eric Kofi Abrefa) is beginning to exhibit a worrying attitude towards women; and, despite her attempts to help, her confident best friend Shanice (Kelly Burke) only makes her feel worse. With the arrival of a rather over-friendly Mailman (Matt Steinberg) and reports of a rapist on Sutton Drive, Stephanie seeks solace in drinking cleaning products. As her strange addiction begins to affect her body and her mind, things begin to take a turn for the bizarre. . .

Conkel's vision of suburban dystopia is served well by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, who directs with an astute eye for the darkly comic: Stephanieís situation may be dire, but there are plenty of moments that are laugh-out-loud funny Ė a scene involving wedding dresses and Kate Bush stands out in particular. Few taboos are left unbroken: sex and violence are high on the menu, and blood and other bodily secretions are served up in increasingly graphic detail. Thanks to the intimate thrust staging, this reviewer nearly had a rear end thrust into his face, not to mention a finger covered in a particularly unpleasant looking substance!

In this incredibly well cast production, everyone shines. Georgia Buchanan anchors the production with a doe-eyed fragility and deadpan delivery, and we root for Stephanie from the start despite her flaws. Kelly Burke gets a lot of laughs as tart-with-a-heart Shanice, and Eric Kofi Abrefa brings vulnerability along with a brooding physical presence as Stephanie's overdeveloped 12 year old son, wearing a football kit that leaves very little to the imagination.

James Turnerís detailed set is a drab and decrepit version of the front room set familiar from countless American sitcoms, and brief musical interludes at the end of each scene encourage us to see the play as a popular daytime soap opera thatís gone horribly wrong, neatly subverting the genre, and reminding us that what we are watching isn't quite meant to be taken at face value. However, frequent lighting changes sometimes seem laboured, and break the flow of the storytelling.

It's fair to say that this is quite unlike any other play you're likely to have seen this year. Conkel is an exciting discovery, and credit is due to Atkinson-Lord and producer Vicky Graham for taking a risk on a virtual unknown this side of the Atlantic. Iíve certainly been left wanting more, and wonder if this is a fair representation of his growing canon of work that is proving so popular off-Broadway and beyond. Seeing life through his lens is not for the faint-hearted Ė but itís certainly a lot of fun.

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The Sluts of Sutton Drive
Written by Joshua Conkel
Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord

Starring: Georgia Buchanan, Kelly Burke, Matt Steinberg, Eric Kofi Abrega, James Hillier
Design: James Turner
Lighting: Tom Cooper
Sound: Edward Lewis
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking to 9th July 2012
Reviewed by Sebastian King based on 25th June performance at Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London, SW10 9ED. (Tube: Earls Court/West Brompton)
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