No Strings Attached is a new play, written by Charles Entsie and performed at the King’s Head’s Ignition room, which is transformed into an underground carpark. The skeleton-frame of a car houses the two actors, Shak Benjamin and Razak Osman, for the majority of the play. It cleverly allows us to see their fidgeting hands and awkward legs, while confining them within the intimate, private space of a car.
I instantly warm to Benjamin and Osman, playing a ‘Boy’ and ‘Man’ respectively, as they tentatively negotiate the aftermath of their sexual intercourse. Importantly, the older of the pair has paid the other for this sex and we watch this dynamic play out over the course of the piece. At one key moment, they both go to speak at the same time but the boy concedes, saying “this is your time”. Considering the man persuades the boy to stay longer by promising him more cash, we see the unnatural and unfair social dynamic that paying for sexual intimacy can create.
Not only are the pair caught in the unequal roles of patron and customer but they are stuck in two very different class systems, too. The man has worked in a well-paying job in the City, whilst the boy is a working-class teenager, living at home with his mum and trying to keep out of the house as much as possible. However, the writing didn’t do this interesting issue justice. Both characters reveal more of their true identities towards the climax of the play and the boy confesses that his father died in what is a stingingly poignant moment. However, the man simply proceeds to go on an unstructured rant about how the grass isn’t always greener on the middle-class side, complaining that being “legit” means you might have to wait for hours at a train station. If you are confused, so am I — what could have been a touching rumination on the dichotomy of class in London is instead a poorly executed rant about having a conventional job.
The set is a perfect reconstruction of a carpark, with bright lights flashing past the car, shocking the man as he is terrified of being discovered as both gay and paying for sex. I did notice that the acoustics are less than ideal for the actors and whilst their delivery is energetic and funny, lots of words are lost to their echoey concrete surroundings. Aileen Gonsalves, the director, writes at length about her self-titled method in the programme but I remain unclear how what tangible effect this has on the action and relationships of the play. Chemistry is essential in binding these two characters together and at times I feel there are no real stakes or connection when they threaten to leave or beg the other to stay. This play is teetering on the edge of some deliciously new and exciting discussions but sadly, some of the writing and direction just falls short along the way.
No Strings Attached is playing at the Ignition Room in Islington Square until 19th June 2021. For more information and tickets, see The King’s Head Theatre’s website.