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REVIEW Theo James, Emilia Fox and love and talent in the internet age - Sex With Strangers, Hampstead Theatre

Emilia Fox and Theo James, Sex With Strangers, Hampstead Theatre. Photo Tristram Kenton

You meet a man. First impressions aren't great but then you get to know him a bit better and there are areas of shared interest. One thing leads to another and that first impression feels like a long time ago. Then, just as things are looking good, that this might be something more substantial than merely the physical you do a bit of googling and discover his online persona. He becomes a stranger again. Do you trust what the man in front of you says?

Laura Eason's play Sex With Strangers pits Olivia (Emilia Fox) a talented writer who is starting to think her career will never take off against a successful young blogger Ethan (Theo James) who seems to have the world at his feet. Olivia craves some of the success Ethan has while Ethan admires her talent.

There are two tensions at play. The nature of Ethan's blog presents a very different person to the one Olivia has got to know and Ethan insists that isn't him, its a persona, a part he plays. Then there is the success and recognition. Olivia finds the internet and social media to be overly exposing but Ethan knows its power. However, while the internet has ultimately brought him success and exposure he wants to be known for a different type of work, work with a little more integrity and depth. Could he be using Olivia?

Some critics have found the dramatic tension in the play under powered and I'd agree to a point except that in the final scene you could almost hear the audience silently debating which way things would go. In fact the ending was the prime topic of overhead conversations as I was leaving, so the play and production obviously does something right.

Critics have also questioned the sexual chemistry between Emilia Fox and Theo James. Naturally there is an awkwardness when two people are just getting to know each other but you can see the relationship evolving and developing and I believed them as a couple, that they would be interested in each other. Perhaps a little more could be done to cast doubt about Ethan and his motives and expose his other side.

It is a play I've thought about a lot since seeing it and I wasn't expecting that so I'm giving it four stars. You can see it at Hampstead Theatre until 4 March.


A note on Theo. I'm a huge fan - OK it's more like a huge crush - mainly because he plays Four in the Divergent film series and I'm a teen fiction/film nerd despite having waved my own teen years goodbye a long time ago. It's always a thrill to see actors you like on screen performing on stage but there is also a fear they won't quite live up to expectation; the stage takes no prisoners, there is no second take. But he didn't disappoint and not just because you got to see a lot of him. He's got the American accent down pat anyway from all the American films he's done. He trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and I don't know how much stage work he did at the start of his career but I hope he does some more again soon.