Sex with a Stranger, Trafalgar Studios 2, London


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The Independent Culture

The singular comic talents of Stefan Golaszewski are mostly expended on works for television - as in Him & Her, a sitcom that applies Royle Family techniques to twentysomething slackerdom with intermittently hilarious results.

But he is also no mean dramatist for the stage.  The Stefan Golaszewski Plays (a title that takes few risks with misattribution) elicited five-star raves from this paper and the Daily Telegraph when it arrived at the Bush two years ago.  That piece was a diptych of linked monologues, performed with mesmeric skill by the author; they demonstrated his ability to sustain pace, rhythmic variety and peculiarly-angled narrative interest over the long distance.  In Sex with a Stranger, premiered now at the Trafalgar Studios, Golaszewski trains his extraordinary flair on playing around with the tragicomic possibilities of a story chopped into cheekily hyper-abrupt black-out sketches that are presented in calculatedly unchronological order and set against sequences that are an agony of real-time protractedness.  You can't put an ironing board on stage without invoking Look Back in Anger.  Here, though, it's a case of John Osborne, eat your heart out, as we watch, in weirdly rapt and respectful silence, a young woman named Ruth perform the entire business of ironing her partner's package-creased new shirt.

The shirt has just been purchased by Adam (brilliant Russell Tovey) and, by this roughly mid-point in the play, we have already seen him wearing it and indeed taking it off in the bedroom of Grace (spot-on Jaime Winstone), an airhead "in sales" that he has picked up at a disco for a one-night stand.  This first half of Philip Breen's immaculately timed and acted production is largely spent in following this couple of strangers through the epic banalities of the journey to her flatshare.  There are several bouts of the kind of snogging that could teach a hoover a thing or two about suction but mostly you wonder if masturbation wouldn't be preferable as he drapes her in his doe-eyed gaze and she witters empily on.  Asked where exactly she lives, she says "Do you know Homebase", as though it were as distinctive as the Bridge of Sighs.  Golaszewski has a devastating ear for the tiny bizarreries of this near-phatic communion, plus the uncondescending ability to keep the characters juicy.  You never feel that they are being baked to death with derision, as they bark their shins in the dark against a too-low bed.

Then there's a weird change of gear and you see the run-up to this night.  Naomi Sheldon wrings your heart and irritates you to bits as the girlfriend who, by having been too suspicious, has put herself in a weak position and can't object when Adam claims that he is going out for a mate's twenty-sixth birthday.  As she helps him get ready, in a banked-down fever of foreboding, you feel that their lives have quietly horrifying DIY Neil LaBute play.  A  dazzling achievement.

To 25 Feb