A forceful strike that leaves an aftermath of lingering pain defines the word slap, and is a fitting characterisation of Dominique in Alexis Gregory’s play of the same name. Gregory, who also plays the vivacious pre-operational transsexual hooker, is abundant with clien’s and Slap focuses on two very contrasting men who both entrap Dominique into reliving one fateful night.
For the audience the night began with a detour to Gerry’s kitchen, located opposite the theatre. In the far corner of this relaxed eatery, curtains were drawn revealing a boudoir that was abundant in camp and, as the audience took in their surroundings, they flocked to seats that were generously scattered around the stage. The boudoir was a haven for sexual liberation and debauchery, covered in gold, glitter and neon reminiscent of the streets of Soho. Designed by Rikki Beadle-Blair, the glamorously tacky décor complimented Dominique’s flamboyant persona. Beadle-Blair created a relaxed set and enticed the audience to indulge in acts of voyeurism from the comfort of chaise lounges and stools. Intruding on Dominique’s home and place of business to watch her spit on clients and take drugs, Gregory regained back his control by strutting constantly around the stage and nonchalantly moving any audience members who made the mistake of sitting in her seat
Gregory stole his own show as Dominique was sharp and commanding. The change in Gregory’s tone and personality as Dominique’s emotional state declined was rapid. Wooing potential clients at the beginning of the play with sensuality, over enunciation and control, Dominique became abrupt and panicked as the relationship between her and the two men in her life eventually intertwined. The two men were complete opposites of one another; one wore a tuxedo whilst the other donned zebra print pyjamas, but were connected in their love for Dominique. The contrast between the pair made them endearing to the audience as they both represented romantic archetypes. Dominique’s East End drug dealer boyfriend Danny (Frankie Fitzgerald) was the typical bad boy whilst the overzealous gentlemanly client (Nigel Fairs) was the nice guy who finishes last. Both men were endearing as they displayed their affection for Dominique and were the perfect supporting cast for a character who symbolises transition.
The audience felt guilty for being allowed to intrude on Dominque because, enclosed in claustrophobic proximities, her vulnerability became apparent. As witness to a visually explicit story of death and grief, Dominique began to adjust to a life of solidarity. The crescendo of noise that contributed to the retelling of Danny’s death and the client’s apparent death was replaced by the all-too-familiar sound of Dominique’s ringing phone. And, just as she first appeared to the audience, the sensual Dominique returned as she indulged in a client, although this time the glittering décor loses its vibrancy.
Gregory’s bleak and black-humoured playwrighting, combined with Beadle-Blair’s set design and direction, was a graphic explosion. Scenes of both Danny and the client suffocating themselves with a plastic bag were a succession of slaps, and classic of Beadle-Blair who is renowned for his shock value and presentation of the LGBT community. Like its namesake, Slap was impactful, with long-lasting repercussions for star Alexis Gregory.
Slap played at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 10 October. For more information about the play, see the Stratford East website