Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

new sexcell

Megan Matthews as Tiffany, Debbie Donnelly as Janice and Katherine Williams as Sylvie man the phones while boss Richard Woodward as Mr C and Lin Neale as Lily are in earnest conversation behind in the office. Pictures: Roy Palmer.

Sex Cells

Hall Green Little Theatre


Most of us have bought something over the phone at some time or another, whether it is car or house insurance, or that thingy for the whatsit that broke in the bathroom that you can only find on the internet, shopping from an armchair.

It is something we are all familiar with, although I suspect there are considerably less of us familiar with the telephone sales we encounter in Anna Longaretti’s bittersweet comedy.

Here we are in the office of Aphrodite, Goddess of Sexual Rapture, and also, it seems, goddess of things that need batteries, lubrication or inflation. And selling these items of rapture, increasing sexual pleasure while reducing the size of your bank account, are four very different women with four very different relationships.

These are women with flaws, with hang-ups, with problems of their own – in short they are ordinary people with ordinary backgrounds selling items that bear no relationship to their own lives or relationships.

The setting is not important beyond providing a rich vein of humour as an aside to the unfolding human drama.

We have Lillian, Lily, played convincingly by Lin Neale. She is the eldest of the quartet. A woman with a life as sad as it is unfulfilled. She has a marriage of sorts, one that could be seen as a penalty, almost a punishment for one unsuccessful, rather unconvincing and completely unsatisfactory attempt at sex – “like pushing a marshmallow into a slot machine”, according to Lily - which led to her being heavy with child when light on marriage. The alter being the only solution in those days.

cells 2

Mr Causeway, who never shouts, or smiles, with Lily - a pair living empty lives

The child, now grown man Alan, has long left home, has never spoken to his father, Bill, for years while his only contact with Lily are the annual, short, phone calls to each other on birthdays. She worries herself that the near estrangement is somehow her fault as a mother, and harbours a bitter sadness they there has been no real romance in her life or marriage.

She clashes regularly with Sylvie, played beautifully by Katherine Williams who maintains an excellent French accent throughout. Sylvie is desperate to be pregnant, to have a child, embracing motherhood with a fanatical zeal – an idyllic picture of motherhood that Lily has never experienced.

Sylvie, 39 and running out of viable eggs, is undergoing IVF, at great expense and when the final treatment is unsuccessful is trying any means she can to raise the cash for another course, despite her husband wanting adoption. When she finally gets her baby we wonder if it was the act of being pregnant of expecting, she really wanted – not an actual baby.

There is a moving scene as both she and Lily open up about fears and regrets holding the new born.

Tiffany, 23, is the youngest, and the most liberated. A good time girl who seems remarkably generous, at least as far as her availability is concerned and there is a suggestion that perhaps her attempts at birth control come after the fact, so to speak.

Despite being on nodding terms with promiscuity she has the least hang-ups of the lot, in a lovely performance by youth theatre graduate Megan Matthews. Nothing seems to faze her. She arrives, sometimes the worse for wear after a heavy night, but always the same. Reading what appears to be 50 Shades of Grey, a couple of pages at a time, she is never angry, always blissfully cheerful, everyone else’s troubles washing over her.

Between them is Janice, cleverly played with a sort of resigned despair by Debbie Donnelly. Janice is married to Jim, happily if they ever got time on their own, which is not easy with five kids.

She worries all the time about her family and tries to warn Sylvie that being a mum is not all blue skies and sunshine. You worry when they are ill, you worry they will be healthy, whether they are being bullied or are bullying, worried about their futures, their friends, all the things any parent worry about.

Then there is there boss Mr Causeway, Mr C, Cecil. we are to discover. He is quiet, mild mannered and although he might complain about people being late you know he will never do anything about it. It is a finely measured performance from Richard Woodward.

He arrives first each morning in a red parka, hangs up his cycle clips and logs on in his office in a routine as regular as sunrise – a rut as deep as a canyon.

Yet he has his own hang ups. While Alan and his mother are virtually estranged, relationship broken down to two phone calls a year, Mr C does not even have that small connection with his own mother, he despises her to a level bordering on hatred.

The sudden death of Bill creates another moving dialogue as Lily talks about her failure of a marriage and what she sees as a failure as a mother, while Mr C, talks about his feelings for Lily, feeling suppressed while she was married to Bill.

It has been obvious that the two are the longest standing employees in the firm, and the closest. To Mr C, Bill’s death frees both him and Lily, him from his silence, her from an unhappy marriage. A mix of grief, relief, regret and hope which leads to a sad misunderstanding – ad a new beginning.


Janice gives pregnancy obsessed Sylvie a few home truths about families and bringing up children

The telephone sex shop setting from director Roy Palmer creates a convincing scene, given authenticity by the audience entering to see the quartet on the phones in a busy period selling and explaining their various exotic wares to enlarge, engorge or entice, in sizes of small, medium and liar, for backdoors, front doors, any doors and even a Percy grow bag which is as far from cucumbers and tomatoes as you can imagine – unless we are talking euphemisms of course.

Once the play itself starts there is one marvellously funny moment when Mr C enters into an already running conversation about sexual practices generated by a sale and helpfully offers his two pennyworth. Unfortunately, arriving late in the chatter, he wrongly assumes a mention of rear ending to be about a collision in a car, even admitting to being rear ended himself in his youth.

The play is broken into 11 scenes, taking us from July to late September and Palmer has cleverly turned the breaks into days, each scene ending with the five cast leaving for the day, with a routine as repetitive as Ground Dog Day.

Mr C switches everything off, takes down the sales chart, takes his waste basket and his coat and bike clips and off he goes, reversing the process at the start of the next scene.

So many scenes can be disruptive, but Palmer has at least lessened the effect of losing momentum from the breaks by creating an impression of the passage of time, each break the end of a day, each start a new shift which evecreates a mild interest in watching Mr C to see if he keeps to his routine, or to see if Tiffany manages to find a hook as she flings whatever she is wearing in the general direction of the coat stand as she comes in.

What the company is selling provides a constant supply of bawdy humour but, in truth, they could have been selling mobile phones, or working in a call centre for a water company. The play is not about the phones, or sex toys, it is about people and relationships and the fine cast bring this disparate, well defined quintet to life, all brought together by Aphrodite. Lovely studio theatre. To 09-03-19

Roger Clarke


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