The Sex Party

The Sex Party reviews at the Menier Chocolate Factory ★★

A reviews round-up of Terry Johnson’s new play The Sex Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory starring Timothy Hutton.

Written by Terry Johnson (Dead Funny), who also directs, The Sex Party stars Oscar winner Timothy Hutton making his UK theatre debut in the role of Jeff, alongside Amanda Ryan (The Forsyte Saga) as Magdalena, Jason Merrells (Agatha Raisin) as Alex, Molly Osborne (Call the Midwife) as Hetty, plus Lisa Dwan (Top Boy), John Hopkins (Poldark), Pooya Mohseni (Law & Order:Special Victims Unit), Kelly Price (The English Game) and Will Barton (Theresa vs. Boris: How May Became PM).

The Sex Party sees four couples gather in a suburban London home for an evening of wine, cheese, and more intimate pleasures! Some are curious, some are more familiar, and one is rather unexpected!

The comedy is now playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 7 January 2023.

More reviews to follow.

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The Sex Party reviews

The Telegraph

"Terry Johnson is back on top with this risky trans bedroom comedy"

"It’s one risk to make trans lives a central talking-point in a jocular entertainment, but Johnson raises the stakes by making questions about sexual desire, biological identity and ‘gender ideology’ integral to the storyline. "

"I can’t imagine many theatres were keen to give such a thrusting provocation a platform, venerated though Johnson is. Bravo to the unfunded, open-minded Menier, then. Whatever the shortcomings of the piece – there’s a smack of contrivance about Lucy’s presence and caricature stalks the four couples – it’s defined by rollicking dialogue, good old-fashioned writerly craft and an implicit faith in theatre as a forum for exploring difficult, even taboo, subjects."

"For all its knowing bouts of crassness, The Sex Party is sensitively handled. A return to form for Johnson, it invites us to think about what we choose, who we choose, and how we arrive at being truly ourselves."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Evening Standard

"This scattershot comedy is a bad joke"

"Terry Johnson’s play sounds like a bad joke and it is: a scattershot comedy about permission and identity in a post MeToo, gender-fluid world, that sets out to offend everybody and pretty much succeeds."

"It’s also a mess, the thin and inconsistent characters barking random responses to whichever talking point happens to drift by. There’s no real plot, just a series of meandering confrontations that Johnson himself directs without any sense of urgency: at one point, everyone witters about dogs for five minutes. Though sporadically funny, it’s a waste of a fine cast, half of whom – guess which! – spend the whole evening wearing diminishing amounts of sexy attire."

"... the most convincing performance comes from [Molly] Osborne, a true rising star, in the impossible fantasy role of Hetty. She is simultaneously free and constrained, libidinous and sensible, and sustains the play’s dreadful payoff which combines sex, death and rebirth. Osborne was previously at the Menier in Fiddler on the Roof and Indecent, and she’s been remarkable each time."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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"Bewilderingly disjointed comedy about an Islington sex party that gets awkward when trans woman Lucy arrives"

"There is probably a sensitive and interesting drama on the subject of what exactly drives a relatively substantial number of middle-aged couples to experiment with infidelity. And for a while it looks like that might be what ‘The Sex Party’ is aiming for"

"Instead it gestures clumsily at all three and comes away as a pretty baffling use of a decent cast’s time. Johnson is a veteran writer and director who has done some great stuff in his day, but ‘The Sex Party’ feels at least three drafts away from knowing what it wants to be, let alone actually being any cop."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Stage

"Embarrassingly limp"

"Limp comedy that strains for socio-political significance"

"... this new comedy – which reopens the Menier after an almost seven-month closure – is embarrassingly limp. A predictable portrait of miserable middle-class, middle-aged marriage enlivened by suburban wife-swapping kink, at mid-point it lurches abruptly into garbled lip service to the culture wars around transgender rights. It’s as if Johnson went on a goggle-eyed, six-hour Twitter bender and then vomited the results, unedited, on to the page. As for the production, which he also directs, it, too, is startlingly clumsy: awkwardly staged, poorly paced and unconvincingly acted – which, considering the stellar cast, is quite a feat."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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The Times

"Snogging and stereotypes in Terry Johnson’s limp Islington farce"

"The first thing to point out is that, this being a British play, the mood is as erotic as a giggly Tupperware soirée"

"Part of the problem is that it’s hard to warm to any of these one-dimensional people. There’s even less to admire in Timothy Hutton’s seedy, ponytailed American wheeler-dealer, who turns up with a Russian vamp (Amanda Ryan) who is such a caricature you’d think Johnson had invited David Walliams to be his co-writer."

"Johnson — who also directs — appends a poignant postscript, set some months later, which almost makes amends for the scattergun tone of the rest of the script. All in all, it’s slightly funnier than the Menier’s recent revival of Alan Bennett’s painfully dated farce Habeas Corpus, but that’s not saying much."

Clive Davis, The Times
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i News

"Inept and embarrassing – like a rant from your weird uncle"

"Terry Johnson’s play has the air of a formerly esteemed writer raging against changing times. It’s about as subtle as an atom bomb"

"This whole inept and embarrassing project has the air of a formerly esteemed and award-winning writer alternately grappling with and raging against changing times, climes and mores. It’s as if your least favourite uncle has woken up after being asleep for 30 years; why the Menier, a beacon of theatrical excellence down on its luck of late, has involved itself with this nonsense is bewildering. At least most of the actors have the good grace to look embarrassed. It’s hard not to pity the poor souls as they face the prospect of flogging through this all over the Christmas period and into the early new year."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Guardian

"Spiky comedy fails to satisfy"

"There’s tension in Terry Johnson’s tale of four couples meeting for sex and nibbles but the unruly debate isn’t deep enough"

"Terry Johnson’s spiky comedy takes us from the familiar fare of smut and sniggering double entendres to something bolder and more awkward in the sex/gender debate at its centre, even if it does not reach a satisfying end."

"It is brave of Johnson to grapple with a debate that has become so divisive that a meeting of this kind would be unimaginable in real life. But arguments come thick and fast without being explored. Johnson seems to be shooting an arrow through the issues of the day – including, too briefly, consent – but it comes to feel like a dramatised version of Twitter."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Financial Times

"‘The Sex Party’ disappoints"

"A sex party, it turns out, is just like any other party in that no matter what’s going on in any other rooms, the main action is in the kitchen. At least that’s the case in Terry Johnson’s brittle new comedy of manners at the Menier Chocolate Factory"

"... Johnson’s play, which thwacks arguments about consent, freedom of speech and offence around the kitchen with deliberate lack of finesse, and it’s tartly funny in places. But the characters are paper-thin and feel like mouthpieces — a shame given the calibre of the cast in Johnson’s production — and the whole thing becomes a clunky, uncomfortable coupling of shock and care."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Sunday Times

"An orgy in Islington"

"Oglers may initially enjoy The Sex Party, a new Terry Johnson play at the reopened Menier. Its setting: an orgy in Islington, London. Women prance about in their smalls. John Hopkins, a handsome actor with a Captain Haddock beard, shows off his flat-tummied torso. There is talk of swingers and swappers, of threesomes and — we are told — the liberating frisson of making love to one’s spouse while being watched. Then the sexy stuff screeches to a halt and the characters have an argument about trans pronouns."

"Even a Carry On film might have kept the laughs going while tweaking polite pretensions. Yet Johnson’s comedy seems so awed by the gravity of trans rights that it just seizes up, the orgy-goers packing into the kitchen for a row."

"Johnson is right to want to tease Islington’s pronoun police and one can see why he thought a sex party might titillate the box office, but despite all the bare flesh the comedy feels buttoned up."

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
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The Observer

"Terry Johnson leaves little to the imagination"

"Pity the talented cast enmired in The Sex Party."

"Terry Johnson’s new play, which is directed by the dramatist, flounders at pretty much every turn. Chortling title. Stale situation: a swingers’ party at which every couple will eventually reveal their secrets."

"Things are not improved by a lurch of plot halfway through, as if a bring-it-up-to-date rewrite had suddenly been demanded."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Daily Mail

"Sex parties, lies and the joys of a nice cup of cocoa"

"Johnson’s play, with insane courage, walks into a minefield. Topics include the pronoun war, the gender spectrum, J. K. Rowling and transphobia."

"The chat is perhaps too organised, topic-wise. But for the most part it’s very funny and bracingly bleak. A superb cast helps, notably Lisa Dwan as the wife locked in a grumpy, failed marriage, Will Barton as a dim hedonist stoner, and Timothy Hutton as the Yank sex tourist with off-kilter views."

Robert Gore Langton, Daily Mail
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📷 Main photo: The Sex Party. Photo by Alastair Muir

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