Stefan Golaszewski’s new play Sex with a Stranger running at the Trafalgar Studios this February is cut from unpromising cloth: a plot so slight it is barely there - a mundane tale of squalid infidelity - and a cast of three (as in “there are three in this marriage”). Out of these elements he manages to weave a totally engrossing and thrilling evening of theatre, hugely aided by stunning performances from Russell Tovey, Jaime Winstone and, making her West End debut, Naomi Sheldon.
The theatre is tiny, with the audience on the same level as the actors - they are literally close enough to touch; the audience exits treading over Ruth’s (Naomi Sheldon’s) shoes and mobile phone. This intimacy allows a naturalistic and detailed mode of acting: every tiny flicker of an expression registers; the actors are almost in close-up - yet Golaszewski undercuts this by presenting the story in broken fragments of scenes, jump-cutting backwards and forwards in the story, making the audience piece it all together.
The technique is cinematic but perversely, as Golaszewski pushes it to extremes even television wouldn’t pursue, it becomes highly theatrical. The anti-chronological development scrambles the emotional flow for the actors as they have to present widely varying emotions and interactions within split second changes. This clearly also presents challenges for the technical team, which they rise to with aplomb (as do the actors - there are lots of clothing changes: Mr Tovey is memorably down to his pants in one scene. I think “theatrical viagra” is the term I’m searching for).
As the play progresses we begin to understand this is about a relationship in crisis but in denial - what is unsaid becomes more important than what is said. The play delivers some magnificent pregnant pauses - Ruth’s silent entrance with an iron and ironing board is a stunner (as is the ending of the play). Golaszewski’s trademark off-kilter humour shines throughout.