First Night: Sugar Mummies, Royal Court, London

Post-colonial angst relieved by raunchy laughs
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The Independent Culture

Female sex tourism seems to be one of drama's top topics at the moment. Already this year, we've hadTrade, an RSC play by Debbie Tucker Green, set in the present-day Caribbean, and the Charlotte Rampling movieHeading South about the same phenomenon in 1970s Haiti. Now the Royal Court premieres Sugar Mummies, a play by Tanika Gupta which is the fruit of a research trip she made, at the Court's instigation, to Jamaica to examine the relationships between the "beach boys" (the euphemistic term for male prostitutes) and the comfortably-off women seeking the consolations of toned, young black flesh and the kind of flattering attention that comes at a price.

Funny and raunchy (qualities well served in Indhu Rubasingham's production), the piece is knowledgeable, provocative, admirably even-handed in the way it keeps shifting your sympathies and yet over-schematic as it explores the double standards, the racism, the wilful self-delusion and the mutual exploitation involved in these transactions. "Once you have had black, you never go back,'' declares Maggie (Lynda Bellingham), a white fifty-something who has turned to sex tourism as a result of desertion by her husband and the empty nest syndrome. An aging woman feels invisible and aches to be touched, she says, while being, in her case, under no illusion that there's a jot of sincerity in the sweet talk of the gigolos.

Maggie's attitude is distinguished from that of Yolanda (Adjoa Andoh), a liberated African-American who has a regular Rasta holiday lover on the island and who is tartly amused by the other women's racist perception of black men as sex machines. And both are contrasted with Kitty (Heather Craney) a white, 38-year-old teacher from Manchester who projects a desire for romantic escape on to a Jamaican stud, turning nasty when he points out that he has only fed her appetite for lies as a means of feeding his children.

Gupta presents the antidote to these liaisons in the shape of the love that develops through friendship between a trainee chef (Marcel McCalla) and a sensitive mixed-race London architect (Vinette Robinson) who has come to Jamaica in search of the father she never knew.

Sugar Mummies raises fascinating questions about the differences between male and female sexuality and the relationship between the developed and the developing world. Though clunkily constructed, it's a rewarding experience, if not perhaps a play to which you would want to take your toy boy.

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