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Review: I Promise You Sex and Violence, Northern Stage

Although David Ireland's play delivers on its title's pledge, it had the potential to deliver a lot more, says Kathryn Beeson

Keith Fleming - L and writer David Ireland
Keith Fleming - L and writer David Ireland

I Promise You Sex And Violence really wants to shock you.

In fact, no. That doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t so much want to shock you as beg you to be offended by its arsenal of oblique sexual references, swearing, racist language and misogyny. ‘Look! Look! Fairly graphic opening scene of someone pleasuring themselves over Will Smith. Are you uncomfortable yet? Are you? Are you?’

The problem is that all these eager, puppy-like efforts to shock don’t really succeed. To be fair, maybe this isn’t writer David Ireland’s fault.

Post-internet, barrages of sex and swearing don’t shock anymore, and their constant presence just gets in the way, rather than offends.

This is a shame, because underneath it all, the production makes some pertinent points about what we say and what we mean, and what we think and what we’re not allowed to say.

The premise - a thirty-something feminist wants her confused bisexual flatmate to set her up with his black friend - sets the scene for some promising explorations into various prejudices and how we express them.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it falls flat, but the idea is there.

It’s also devilishly funny in places, and the cast do a fantastic job of highlighting the characters’ prejudices whilst making sure that they retain a glimmer of likability throughout. Whilst the characters do lack a little bit of believability they’re acted fantastically, and the actors’ comic timing is spot on.

There are some good ideas here, definitely, but it needs fine-tuning. Did it deserve the mauling it got from critics at the Edinburgh Fringe? Probably not, but equally Ireland and the creative team shouldn’t have let this one out without some fairly major alterations.

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