Sex With Strangers- ‘Bring your Grandma!’ says Thomas Larkin.
Brisbane actor Thomas Larkin was kind enough to take time out of his hectic schedule to talk about Sex With Strangers. He is passionate about the play; you can hear it in the enthusiasm and the eloquence with which he engages in discussion of the characters and themes. The conception of the play came about when Larkin met director Jennifer Flowers at a workshop in Sydney, and the pair were inspired to create work for themselves. They pitched six plays to Powerhouse, and the powers that be endorsed the two-hander play, Sex With Strangers.
After a very successful season last year, which earned three Matilda nominations (one for Best Independent Production, the others for Larkin as Best Male Actor and Veronica Neave as Best Female Actor), there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with this return season. However, with only two weeks of rehearsals, it has been imperative to put that aside and focus. Larkin has specifically focused on playing his character’s “subtleties and ebullience”. It is different remounting a show than approaching it for the first time, but Larkin and Neave both wanted to come back fresh. “We have a recording of the show, but we deliberately didn’t go back and watch it.”
Larkin outlines the plot; “This is a play set in a rural B&B in Michigan.” He explains “Olivia, a writer and teacher, is squirrelled away to write, to take stock of where she’s at. A young man, Ethan, comes blundering in from the blizzard. This play is a battle of wits. Olivia embodies the legitimacy Ethan craves as a writer, and Ethan is the popularity, the affirmation, that Olivia craves”. Larkin describes, Ethan as, “a 27 year-old blogger. Very confident, some would say cocky. He has an ‘anything is possible’ attitude, and he’s all over social media. He loves people, and he’s bold and brash. The challenge is to make him loveable.” Olivia, on the other hand, eschews social media and values quality of work over popularity. Predictably, opposites attract.
At one point, Ethan challenges Olivia to write an online profile, “Just a sentence that totally encapsulates who you are,” he coaxes. I challenged Larkin to do the same for the show. His response was, “a cross-generational love story, exploring the inevitable tug of war that exists in relationships, and the games of manipulation we can all be guilty of employing when the chips are down.” He says people should, “not be put off by the racy title or the racy media images. It’s not just about sex. Bring your Grandma- there’s your tagline,” he laughs. “It’s a very theatre-friendly play. The script lends itself to the screen, which makes it very accessible.” The complexity of that answer may indicate the deep complexities of possible meanings and interpretations buried within Sex With Strangers.
When asked what his favourite scene is, Larkin is thoughtful; “It changes,” he explains, “but at the moment it’s the final scene. There’s a lot of heart. Ethan might not be in control- he still has a lot to say, to lose.” Larkin says it’s important to let the audience take what they will from the ending. “That’s the audience’s decision. We don’t want to tie stuff up with bows.” As for his favourite line from the play, he lapses automatically into Ethan’s American accent: “I’m not saying I’m not an asshole. I mostly am an asshole. But I won’t be an asshole to you. I’m only an asshole to people who are assholes. The world is just…really full of assholes.” You have to respect such beautifully honest cynicism.
Come and experience Sex With Strangers at the Powerhouse until February 21 – theatre at its most intimate. For more information, visit the Brisbane Powerhouse website.