menswear spunkDon’t be fooled by the title – Spunk is a heartfelt and accomplished exploration of intimacy, confronting society’s discomfort over disability and sex. James (Grant Robert Keelan) is wheelchair-bound, and has hired a male prostitute to combat his loneliness. His carer, Aaron (Stuart Crowther), is critical of the decision, himself lonely and needing care.

The relationship between these two men is at the heart of this show, and it’s touchingly written and performed. Aaron’s nervousness and mask of prissiness rub up against James’s desire to talk straight, to explore his own needs in a frank and open environment. The production explores the coping mechanisms of two men, shy of their own desire, reacting to their isolation with antagonism.

The advent of Jack the good-guy prostitute is a well-worn path thematically, but also well-handled here, as the play explores the ethics of prostitution as a profession. Jack is no less vulnerable, but here he’s playing the role of the compassionate listener, first putting James at ease, and then confronting Aaron over his suppressed anxieties. This latter scene is the climax of the play; it sags a little in the middle, but it’s handled sensitively and generously.

The acting here does ample justice to the show’s themes – the performances are consistently sincere, from Aaron’s shambling, pernickety energy to Jack’s more assured kind-heartedness.

The staging is, however, a bit lumpy and static, which prevents the production from achieving a certain crispness and economy that would have made it more powerful. The company would do well to unshackle themselves from the literalism that drives the dramaturgy here, which occasionally comes across a little clumsily.

The bizarre branding is also a shame – the title and marketing of the show don’t do justice to the nuanced sensitivity of its content. This is a deft show with a big heart – and it can be more confident in its own seriousness.

MenSWEAR Collection: Spunk is at C Nova (Venue 145) until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets see the Edinburgh Fringe website.