REVIEW: Extra Virgin (Above the Stag Theatre) ★★

When the lights go up, we interrupt the most intimate of acts occurring between Noah and Elliot: a Grindr hookup in full swing. For a casual affair, the pair seem to be very relaxed with one another, and Noah (James Farley) takes the opportunity to broach the possibility for an ’emotional’ hookup. What if, for one night only, you share not only your body but your innermost thoughts with a complete stranger, just to walk away feeling lighter and refreshed? Elliot (Alexander Hulme) is skeptical, but agrees to play ball…only to open a doorway of wounds that both men have tried to bury.

I left the theatre feeling as though my emotions had been put on an intense washing machine cycle – I felt drained and unfulfilled by the last 50 minutes of action onstage. Ultimately, the script was what makes this performance problematic. Noah’s character manoeuvres the conversation a little too pointedly in order to coerce Elliot into opening up. At points the dialogue progression felt very unrealistic, with Elliot’s willingness to reveal his innermost secrets escalating rather quickly, with too many ‘convenient’ tying up of loose ends. Everything comes full circle, so the audience is taken on a very ambitious journey within less than an hour. Now, there’s nothing wrong with aiming for high impact, shock-tactic writing, but I think that some of the topics covered in ‘Extra Virgin’ are glossed over too quickly. Some are extremely raw in content and will strike a nerve with some viewers, and I don’t feel that the fast pace of this production did these harrowing topics the justice, or deeper exploration, that they deserve.

Having said that, both Hulme and Farley took to their respective roles well – Hulme as the cocksure man’s man that is Elliot, and Farley as the more effeminate, gently-spoken Noah. Both actors skillfully navigated the many tumultuous emotional turns in the story – joy, compassion, fury, resentment, horror, disgust…these characters are very emotionally demanding for any actor to keep up for 50 minutes straight. The physically violent sections were well-choreographed, and excellent timing from both actors carried these technically tricky scenes through to full effect.

This production of Howard Walter’s ‘Extra Virgin’ is entertaining in some earlier parts, but largely overshadowed by a plot that demands a great deal of emotional empathy from its audience without offering a meaningful resolution after a very intense experience. Some strong acting talent is featured here, but the story itself is unlikely to leave a lasting impression on many.

Reviewed by Laura Evans

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