Brighton Festival Review: The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety

The provocative title could be a Woody Allen film and the promotional picture suggested a sensual experience but the end result leaned more to anxiety and nervous tension than cheap tittilation.

The fact that Cathy Tyson was appearing in this show was always going to mean it would be something special. Tyson along with Mairead McKinley, Miltos Yerolemou and Nick Harris performed a series of, mostly, monologue texts between and alongside two four-part pieces by Ligeti and Beethoven.

The anxiety was present from the offset with Yerolemou pacing through music stands and making eye contact with the audience before pontificating on the creation of original sin as The Heath Quartet and his fellow actors took the stage. With the cast assembled the actors reacted with nervous twitches and startled jumps to the quiet menace and discordant hurrying strings and violent shards of Ligeti’s well-named Allegro Nervosa.

Harris’s character mused matter-of-factly on his own impending doom and multiple phobias and how, in the womb, he was doomed to be born nervous. McKinley gave the most physical performance of the evening beginning with a detailed account of how to give a blow job to a well-endowed husband, which was followed by the second movement which felt like a post-coital woozy shimmer. Harris continued his musings on how to best administer tranquilisers and booze to block out fears of flying and existential thoughts, or quitting them to resurrect a voracious sexual appetite, all of which was quickly countered by an horrific account of sexual assault. Through each monologue the other cast members made use of their space to express their characters’ traits.

For ‘To Kill A Child’, Cathy Tyson bravely conveyed the normality of the day that a child is killed and how those left behind are changed irrevocably, with Ligeti’s final movement gently laying the scene to rest. The Beethoven piece came as a soothing comfort blanket with a more traditional quartet feel that felt closest to a sensual experience but it didn’t seem that anyone was feeling too sexy by this point. Tyson’s grieving mother kicked against the stereotype she’d been saddled with as McKinley clambered over the props in a negligee.

Director Calixto Bieito has sought medical help for his own psychological issues with sex, anxiety and music always looming large in his life and expressed them all too clearly in this work. The Heath Quartet delivered a fine performance, especially with the Legeti piece, and the collaboration with the actors worked well. The sex portrayed was loveless and mechanical at best, violent at worst, but the key to the show’s success was the depiction of various states of anxiety and neuroses played out against the two well-chosen pieces of music. A fascinating piece that probably led to some interesting post-show discussions.

Theatre Royal, Wednesday 23rd May 2018
Tickets available for Thursday 24th here

Photo by Erwin Olaf

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Steve Clements

Steve has been a SOURCE contributor since Summer 2010 and also writes for Latest 7 magazine. He moved to Brighton in 2006 after working in London at the Royal Albert Hall, Our Price Music and Teletext. Favourite quote - "There's no such thing as a sold out gig".

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