An excellent UK premiere of one of Neil LaBute's earliest plays.
American playwright Neil LaBute has become an increasingly recognisable voice on the British stage over the last 15 years. So it’s surprising that his breakout work – this play from 1989 – has never before been performed anywhere outside of the US. It is finally making its British debut at the fringe courtesy of American company Phantom Owl and it is excellent. An evocative, occasionally shocking but ultimately truthful look at sex, intolerance and relationships through the eyes of a bunch of going-nowhere drifters.
Opening in a strip club, the piece is essentially made up of mini-monologues spoken by two waitresses and four of their sleezy customers. The guys are there to have a good time, while the ladies try to keep the tips coming. The characters are fluid and non-specific, and each of the seven-strong cast step out at various points and speak the mind of different people. There’s the waitress who has decided to talk openly with the next guy who comes along (until that guy turns up and she says she’ll maybe wait for the one after). We hear the tale of the man who witnesses his dad getting a blow job from his neighbour when he’s 12, and another guy who takes pleasure in watching the rape of two guys down a back alley.
The stories are dark, but they betray a floundering felt by the characters – they are all lost and confused, drowning in sexual desire but frustrated with their inability to connect. Though some of the tales are unsettling, it’s the characters themselves – the way they objectify each other and sex – that really disturb.
Phantom Owl stage a whole series of plays this month and this is just one of them. The production is great – slick, fast-paced and really well-directed. The actors are superb, a despair clearly pooling inside them as they recount their experiences. Bathed in red light, Matthew Lillard's production has some really smart light designs that add to the atmosphere and transport you into these characters heads. ‘Filthy Talk for Troubled Times’ is challenging, but ultimately rewarding.