Touring – reviewed at the Soho Theatre, London
It doesn’t take long to understand why Rafaella Marcus’ debut play Sap garnered so many rave reviews at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. The quality of the writing and its exceptional delivery under Jessica Lazar’s direction make an instant impression, even before the complexity of the play and its themes fully comes to light. Part love story, part thriller, part reimagined Greek myth, the 70-minute two-hander explores bisexuality through the eyes of its protagonist (Jessica Clark), a woman in her 30s who’s named in the script – but not on stage – as Daphne.
When she meets the woman of her dreams (Rebecca Banatvala), for a short time everything in Daphne’s life is perfect – until the day she neglects to mention to her new girlfriend that she also likes men. With the lie of omission already hanging over their relationship, things go from bad to worse when the last man Daphne slept with (also Banatvala) re-enters her life in an unexpected and decidedly inconvenient way. Suddenly she’s caught in an unwelcome and increasingly dark triangle, between the partner she wants, who’s turned off by the very idea of bisexuality, and the one she doesn’t, who’s far too turned on by it.
Sap is an incredible debut from Marcus, combining a compelling plot, driven by an engaging and relatable central character, with an eye-opening portrayal of the challenges, prejudices and outright dangers faced by bisexual women. Out in the straight world – or “the world” as Daphne wryly describes it – this is something that isn’t talked about enough, and for that reason alone, Sap is essential viewing. However it’s also beautifully written; Marcus’ use of language is second to none, particularly in the hugely evocative scenes inspired by Greek myth that describe the protagonist’s futile attempts at self-preservation.
The performances of both actors are outstanding. Clark is utterly magnetic as Daphne from the moment she opens her mouth, bringing us love, fear, rage, desperation and self-loathing all at once, and connecting with the audience on both sides of the traverse stage with absolute ease. Her comic timing is perfect, her movement is exquisite, and when she begins to fall apart the pain she projects is almost visceral. Banatvala is equally excellent as all the other characters, and particularly as both Daphne’s girlfriend (referred to throughout as simply “her” or occasionally “Wonder Woman”) and her male one night stand. In more than one way, the two characters are flip sides of the same coin, and Banatvala skilfully manages these simultaneously mirroring and contrasting portrayals.
Over the course of 70 minutes, Sap takes the audience on quite a ride, with joyous highs and devastating lows, psychological mind games and unrestrained passion. Perhaps some prior knowledge of the Greek myth that inspired parts of the story would help to make sense of those scenes, but I’m nitpicking. This is a captivating piece of writing and acting that more than deserves a long life after Edinburgh.
Sap is at Soho Theatre until 22nd April and then continues on tour.
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