I was really keen to see Clay by writer Adam Foster as I had previously caught another production co-written by him: Molly at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. The dark content and contemporary humour had really stood out to me, and Clay, a two-hander that delivers two sides of a story relating to sexual consent, promised to be of a similar style. The content references the sexual ambiguity in songs like ‘Blurred Lines’ and Bieber’s “what do you mean? / when you nod your head yes / but you wanna say no”. Can we really assume to know what another person is thinking, and how can we interpret behaviour and situations so differently?
Cue the harmlessly (so it seems) simple Jordan (Alex Hope), and suggestively privileged coke-snorting Lindsay (Katherine Drury) who meet at a party. They are completely mismatched, but for one night – what does it matter? Lindsay makes the move to invite Jordan back to hers and they consensually sleep together.
They individually narrate their take on events, occasionally coming together to re-enact particular moments. This starts subtly with small and amusing insights into their different perspectives. But the morning after the night before, as they realise they have no idea of each other’s name, their differences become more pronounced and it is evident that they are not on the same page. The result is brilliantly funny. She drops ‘subtle’ hints that he should leave by taking her clothes into the bathroom to get changed whilst he wonders why girls always get changed in bathrooms? Clearly he is used to women avoiding him. There is such truth in this situation, and it highlights some fundamental differences between the sexes, reminding me of the whole ‘men are from Mars’ theory. As the whole play is based on misinterpretation from the offset, it makes me wonder why we place so much emphasis on being polite and do not all just bluntly say what we think.
It seems the situation can get no more dire, but after finding a clue in her room as to his mystery woman’s identity, Jordan makes the tragic error of mistakenly assuming that her name is Annie, and is very pleased with his own detective skills. Unfortunately, her name is Lindsay, and Lindsay is not impressed.
Time moves on: having just lost his job at the florist due to his lack of skills with both flowers and people, Jordan is out to drown his sorrows by buying a bottle of prosecco and cava, and incidentally runs into Annie – or Lindsay. Reluctantly, she invites him to the club she is going to that night, but when he asks for her number she declines.
So far their accounts of events, though differing in perspective, have always agreed on the basic facts. So it comes as unexpected when his viewpoint contradicts hers by claiming that she did indeed give her number to him. This brings a new aspect to the play, where we have to question what actually happened and who is telling the truth.
The ending and main event where Jordan, heavily misreading all the signals and under the influence of alcohol, takes advantage of Lindsay feels almost inevitable. The event is relived by each character and is especially moving in Lindsay’s account when, afterwards, she wonders how she has allowed this to happen. The character has not been previously portrayed as a victim but she has found herself in circumstances where she does not feel able to say no, which is powerful in showing that this could happen to anyone.
They then repeat both versions again, simultaneously. I felt this would have had more baring if, like the phone number incident, their stories had developed at all into something different, rather than simply repeating themselves.
It is a very engaging piece. The devising process used by director Hannah Hauer-King captures an improvised feeling in the scenes, and the characters are incredibly well carved out with due credit to the brilliant performances given. The writing does not disappoint and has a really natural dialogue that speaks particularly to young adults. I definitely think this play has a strong target audience.
I would say that knowing the content is about sexual consent, it didn’t offer many revelations for me in this area or challenge my original perceptions. I would have liked to have been a bit more shocked – perhaps splitting opinions by pushing the dual perspective further, to make us really question what happened. Nevertheless, Clay is a great representation of up-and-coming talent and high quality fringe theatre – well worth watching.
Clay is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 24 April. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website.