Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory discuss the subversive play causing a stir on the UK’s queer theatre scene.
To say Sex/Crime is intense would be doing it a disservice – it’s, to use a quintessential theatre reviewer phrase, visceral.
Directed by the stunningly accomplished Robert Chevara, starring Alexis Gregory and Jonny Woo, and written by Alexis Gregory, it’s a disturbing but also bizarrely comedic meditation on sex and death.
What should audiences expect from Sex/Crime?
Alexis: It’s a dark, comic queer thriller that explores what happens when two men get together to recreate the murders of a famous gay serial killer. It’s wild, dark, funny, sexy, hard-hitting and covers many other themes too – regarding the queer experience and beyond. Robert Chevara our director calls it a ‘state of the nation’ play and I think that’s correct.
Some of it touches on drug use – where do you think gay men are with drug use right now?
Jonny: Oh god, that’s a Pandora’s Box. I’ve been very open about my drug use, which was mainly ecstasy, a party drug that was used by millions openly and was/is social and largely acceptable and discussed – of course not without its dangers. The drug use now ‘chems’ is very different and involves a lot of secrecy and often shame and much higher dangers. People do drugs initially because they are fun…it seems that the world chems can open you up to can be a lot darker than what you intended.
A: We need to acknowledge the complicated issues around drugs and gay men. What often isn’t acknowledged is that gay men take drugs because they find them fun and freeing. Of course, we all know what the flipside can be and how what you thought may free you, ultimately traps you. I always remember a friend saying to me, ‘drugs can be your best friend and your worst enemy too’. How many of us have looked at our social media and seen the face of another young gay man taken by drugs? It’s so sad and even sadder that it is not uncommon.
Do you think it’s important for audiences to be challenged?
A: I don’t think audiences need to be challenged with every single piece of theatre or film or TV that comes their way, but my work certainly is challenging, and I hope accessible at the same time. I would even say that I’m not interested in presenting work that doesn’t challenge an audience, or else, for me, what’s the point? I like seeing theatre that is vital, alive and making a powerful bold statement. That’s what I try to do with my work.
J: I think it’s fun to be challenged. I concur with Alexis on the value of entertainment for its own sake. With regards to making work, I think we both like to upset the status quo with what we present.
A lot of gay sex scenes are STILL being censored from mainstream movies, and there’s still a huge lack of gay sex in TV and film – why do you think that’s still the case?
A: However far we progress, I think the actual act and mechanics of gay men getting down to it are too much for most mainstream audiences. Similarly to what I said about challenging work: I don’t necessarily think that we have to more sex scenes generally. Adding sex scenes, gay or straight, to a production doesn’t make it any better. They can actually be distracting and unnecessary. But if there is a double standard, then yes, I think it should be addressed and re-balanced.
J: I don’t like sex scenes in movies anyway, unless its porn, and even then once you’ve shot your load it’s a bit, ‘oh god, those curtains, he could have trimmed etc’. I think the question is about representation of queer stories, but then if we are going to talk about that we should be talking about women’s representation, black representation and on and on.
The play also deals with consent – do you think gay men need to have a conversation about that?
A: In ‘Sex/Crime’ we subvert the current conversation regarding consent and explore what these characters are consenting to, as opposed to what they are not. We also explore what has driven them to do so. We all know there are issues with consent on the gay scene, from being grabbed in a club or bar and the perpetrator becoming aggressive when you tell them to stop to really violating acts at sex parties. There are clear issues around all of this that have been, sadly, normalised, for some time.
J: Well, I think a lot of men are still very late to coming to that party. I don’t think we necessarily need to say gay or straight. I think sometimes when it’s between two men it’s assumed ‘oh it’s ok because the ‘other’ man is strong enough to reject unwanted attention’ or it’s some kind of coded gay behaviour. It isn’t and mutual respect should be standard.
Tell us a bit about the polaroid shots that accompany this feature.
A: We shot them with the brilliant Cathal O’brien. I’d seen some of his work previously and asked him to shoot us both. I like the feel and aesthetic of the pics and I hope they show some of the relationship and chemistry between Jonny and I. I also really like that some of the photos demonstrate a tenderness and closeness between two gay men. Gay men are mostly depicted in photoshoots ‘peacocking’ with the main narrative being ‘Look at me. I’m sexually attractive. You desire me’. Whilst Sex/Crime very provocatively explores sex, fetish, role-play and sexual taboos, it is also very much a play about intimacy and connection. I hope people look at Cathal’s pics and see that in them too.
J: We love Cathal! They are beautiful pictures.
The play’s had a great reception so far – what are your future plans for it?
A: We are looking at touring the play later this year and next. And there has, just this week, been interest regarding a screen version and two productions abroad. It’s all mega early regarding the last two options and I never normally talk about things until they’re set…but I just did. I’m very ambitious and optimistic regarding all my work and its next stage but I’m also cool with it having the natural life that it does. It’s work that exists in the moment and it doesn’t have to live forever. So come see it at Soho Theatre while you can!
J: I won’t let it have a natural life. I want to keep doing it, so I’ll keep banging those doors for us both.