In the past week I saw two plays by two young writers, both plays dealing with same sex relationships, both writers using initials as their first name. But as they say, the similarities end here. DC Moore’s Straight, adapted from a film and produced by Sheffield Theatres in association with the Bush theatre, is at first glance modest in its ambition. Recounting the relationship between a young couple and the impact an old friend’s visit has in their lives, it focuses on small gestures, tiny details and the natural joyful interactions between people. By getting the details right, it reveals a world where people reach out for intimacy, meaning, tenderness and hope. In many ways, this is the biggest ambition of all.
The first, and probably most important, thing to be said about the play: it’s very funny. From an unexpected visual gag ten minutes into the story to the small juicy jokes about living in a cramped flat to the use of “Michael Gove-y” as an adjective, it mines characters and situations for the gasped laughter of recognition and familiarity. The jokes are funny because they are true, the language is inventive but natural.
Under Richard Wilson’s direction, the material reaches its full potential. The production is fluent and confident, playing with comical sexual fumbles one moment and profound tenderness the next. Equally all actors rise to the occasion: Henry Pettigrew as Lewis can balance naivety and easy charm with sharp determination. Philip McGinley as Waldorf takes preconceptions about his character and subtly undermines them to reveal something more interesting. Jessica Ransom as Morgan radiates intelligence and has a magnificent stage presence. Jenny Rainsford, in a small but crucial role, steals almost every scene she is in.
The play flirts with preconceptions about relationships, sexuality, bonding and intimacy. It doesn’t so much undermines them as it sets them free. The characters struggle to open their world, find experience and adventure. And in a funny way, the play itself, confident and playful, becomes the end destination.
P.S. From the playwright’s Notes on the text: “The play is set now. And should feel as now and alive and as present tense as you can possibly make it.” Quite.