The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents @ Gate Theatre, London

cast list
Cath Whitefield
Brendan Hughes
Francis Lee
Milton Lopes
Eva Magyar
Di Sherlock
Jack Tarlton

directed by
Carrie Cracknell
Dora has learning disabilities and has been on medication since she was a young girl. The medication has kept her docile, in a near catatonic state, but Doras mother finds her passivity increasingly problematic and decides she wants to lift the pharmaceutical curtain, to get to know what her daughter is like without the pills.

Without her medication Dora rapidly starts to wake up to the world around her and primarily in Lukas Barfuss unsettling play, to her own sexual appetites. As she becomes increasingly uninhibited and fascinated with the physical, she is left increasingly vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals. Indeed, almost immediately a man takes an interest in Dora and their burgeoning relationship is unnerving to watch.

Carrie Cracknells production is designed to make you uncomfortable. The audience looks down on the set, making the cast feel like exhibits at a museum or a zoo. The inventive set emphasises this feeling of exhibition, with the title of the play written on the wall in adhesive letters (later Dora plays with these letters, rearranging them into to the shape of genitals).

The scenes are broken up by short bursts of music, during which the actors roll into one anothers arms and vault across the black foam blocks that are scattered across the stage. Through this rather jarring technique the production alternatively draws the audience in and then pushes them away.

Cath Whitefield is superb as Dora; its a difficult role but she pitches it in just the right way. Her Dora is the human centre in a play; everyone else is out for their own ends, and keen to manipulate the vulnerable young woman or worse. Her doctor is particularly weak and ineffectual, dodging all the complex emotional issues involved in her burgeoning sexual awakening and simply advising her not to have sex in public places or with children, before prescribing her the pill.

Her parents are even more detached, letting their daughter loose into the world unsupported, then responding with shock when Dora does not react in ways they recognise (or rather when she reacts in ways they recognise all too well). There is no one she can turn to, so she turns to the worst possible person and is exploited as a result.

Though the play is out to press buttons, to provoke a response, I thought it was trying a little too hard. It was too slick and well co-ordinated, making it difficult to get an emotional hook on the action or the characters. It all seemed a bit forced and over-produced, the rawness of Cath Whitefields performance the only thing one could really latch on to. It dealt in extremes in a way I found increasingly alienating and, though it was possible to see what Cracknell was trying to achieve, and indeed did achieve in places, it all felt a bit much, the play simply too unsubtle and manipulative to warrant such care.

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