Bitesize Festival: Bad Sex at Riverside Studios
Only a chair features on an otherwise empty stage. On the chair sits Liam (Theo Hristov, who also wrote the monologue); he is an actor who, fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse, has experienced a public meltdown while performing in a West End play. For 60 minutes in the suitably intimate (and thankfully well air-conditioned) Riverside Studios, we learn about Liam and the circumstances that led him on this unfortunate trajectory. This new play is loosely based on real events.
It soon becomes apparent that our protagonist is something of a lost boy. Hristov excels in his depiction, with bursts of hyperactive energy and effective use of voice. The performer is at his best when he uses his physicality – which happens to be for the vast majority of the play. Upon learning of his situation, we of course want to empathise with this person, but the fact that this is an actor playing an actor does, at times, hinder this – it feels like there is a vast barrier between the audience and Liam, despite his close proximity. As well as the occasionally over-the-top portrayal, the protagonist is often so far removed from reality that the viewer sometimes struggles to understand him.
Stereotypes also creep in, with the character having a chaotic sex life and the aforementioned issues with drugs and alcohol – aspects that might be more interesting if they and their consequences were explored in greater depth. Yes, Liam displays vulnerability under the neuroticism, but perhaps more of this and less bravado would work to the character and the play’s advantage. Certain moments are poignant, exploring themes ranging from grief to domestic abuse, but again certain things feel glossed over. Although, for the most part, Liam seems to possess few redeeming features, there are reminders throughout that this is a man in crisis and he does eventually begin to turn a corner and self-reflect.
Hristov demonstrates impressive physicality – doing an impression of a dog at one point and morphing into a host of different people – and he barely comes up for air. It’s no mean feat to carry such a show on one’s own, only accompanied by minimal lighting and sound design (courtesy of Arvid Zollinger and Joe Browning respectively). It’s all about the performance and the words, of which most pour out at a runaway rate. Therein lies one of the issues: there is a great deal for the audience to digest, without the opportunity to enjoy much in the way of visual action or other performers.
There is the blueprint for an interesting play here and, while some of the production works well, other aspects feel in need of an edit. But this is of course a new work and the Bitesize Festival is all about showcasing fresh material and trying out new things. Hristov should be praised for his endeavour; there are moments of strong writing and carrying the show without ever leaving the stage is commendable.
Bad Sex is at Riverside Studios from 15th July until 20th July 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.