Adam Foster’s new show, Clay, currently playing at the Pleasance StageSpace, markets itself on the premise that there are ‘two sides to every story’ (the story in this case being one of sexual assault) and that this was ‘a dark and caustically funny rom-com gone wrong’. This was largely misleading – to describe the events of the play as ‘rom-com gone wrong’ seem horribly misplaced.
For one, the play simply does not have the malleability that ‘Clay’ seems to suggest. The premise is simple; a duologue telling the same story – a boy sleeps with girl on one night stand, gets wrong idea, things escalate from there. Yet there simply was no more than one side to the story – the ‘boy’ never has a legitimate point, using deception and lies to essentially make his way into the girl’s bedroom. There was no grey area – it was the story of a boy not asking for permission during sex. It was, as a side point, neither ‘caustically funny’ nor a ‘rom-com’. Plays like Consensual, which recently played as part of the NYT season, at least problematised the notion of consent and sexual interaction – here the issue was, as much as Foster may not want us to think, set in stone
Director Hannah Hauer-King, having had a fantastic turn overseeing Brute, here manages to inject some life into a script that had some rhythmic difficulties – lacking the same punch as plays with similar set ups (Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs for example). This wasn’t the fault of the cast, who kept the play ticking over for the full hour – special credit must go to Katharine Drury – her facial expressions and frankness bringing genuine nuance and warmth to her character. Alex Hope, perhaps having the harder and more limited job, fulfilled the ‘socially-awkward yet relatively attractive’ role with a practical ease. Sound and lighting design were also superb and vital for the ambient setting of the play – the use of gels never being overly wrought yet subtly dealt with.
For all this, however, Foster’s Clay felt entirely unambiguous. There was nothing ambiguous about the plot, and this was by no means a ‘rom-com gone wrong’ – there was only a sad realism to proceedings. Perhaps I just didn’t get the overall message, but either way Clay felt disconcertingly unclear, and when it comes to issues of consent, a lack of clarity is certainly a part of a problem rather than a step towards a solution.
Clay will be at the Pleasance Theatre until the 24th April.