The Prudes at the Royal Court
The murky depths of sexual politics are penetrated in Anthony Neilson’s latest play, The Prudes. In a two-hander that’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny and increasingly torturous, questions of gender roles, consent, porn and masturbation are held up to the light.
Spilling into the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs and treading across soft, pink carpet, the audience take their seats around a memory foam mattress the size of a boxing ring. The entire space has been transformed into a cross between a fussy boudoir, a chat show set and the kind of bedsheet hideouts you used to set up at sleepovers. And designer Fly Davis has hidden a few wicked surprises beneath the lacy veneer.
Jimmy (Jonjo O’Neill) and Jess (Sophie Russell) are here to save their marriage after a 14-month, four-day unintended sexual hiatus. While the latter seems more straightforward in her approach to getting them in the mood, the former becomes an anxious wreck as he tries to reconcile his taste in porn and roleplay fetish with his liberal stance and rejection of the patriarchy. As Jimmy leans towards victimhood, it’s left to Jess to cajole and comfort.
A veritable feast of silliness, wit and satire, The Prudes inspires laughter throughout. Some winsome moments include the line, “no more metaphors! Let’s put our cards on the table,” and the depiction of “white tissue flowers blooming in the bin” as a giveaway for a spouse’s secret masturbation.
The drama is sweeping in its attentions, dislodging all those little contradictions – those nuanced niggles – about carnal pleasures. There’s the proactive versus passive roles in sex necessitated by physical male/female differences; myths about arousal; the strange and powerful places we find eroticism; the power dynamics of roleplay. Slice these up with a blast of R. Kelly’s Bump n’ Grind and a reference to Kevin Spacey, and we’re rooted firmly in the #MeToo movement that’s at the fore of the present global conversation around equality.
The neurotic Jimmy and resilient Jess make a dream double act, balancing caricatured humour with effusive warmth. Thanks to Neilson’s usual practice of building the play during the rehearsal process, the actors have been integral in moulding the characters, and as a result they feel fully formed and honest.
An unflinching and confrontational take on the business of being human directed through the prism of sex, The Prudes pours scorn on the skewed playing field of sexual politics and forces us all to examine what our roles are within a society clamouring to set it right.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Prudes is at the Royal Court from 13th April until 2nd June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.