Bold String Quartet’s Guide to Sex is enthusiastically received at Birmingham Rep

THE STRING Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety is an extraordinary theatrical experience.

It began with a silent and majestic entrance by Miltos Yerolemou via a forest of abandoned music stands and a wall of tubular chairs – by the time he reaches the front of the stage the silence is deafening.

This is broken when he recites a piece from ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ by Robert Burton. Gradually, Mairead McKinley, Cathy Tyson and Nick Harris, join him – all A list, award winning actors with pedigrees that speaks volumes.

They do not have character names, as the shows creator and director Calixto Bieito does not deem it appropriate for them to have them.

Rather they are destined to perform individually and when they are not performing to go on endless ambles around the vast stage in search of what is personal to them and deliberately kept unclear from us.

They are joined by ‘The Heath Quartet’, of Oliver Heath, Chris Murray, Gary Pomeroy and Sara Wolsenholme – wonderful musicians who are actually the fifth actor in this artistic cacophony.

So once the assembly is complete, the journey commences and we are taken through an often sad, sometimes beautiful, occasionally nightmarish, always challenging trip into the relationship between sex and anxiety disorders. This is achieved through a mix of acting, verse, prose, text and music.

There is the cleverness of melding soliloquies into duologues by the use of gesture and not quite making contact. In turn this signifies a powerful cry for help – after all depression is an illness never suffered alone.

The music goes from the nail-biting grating and experimental to the majestic and the joyous, which washes over players and audience like a soft comforting cloud of cotton wool.

The most moving words of the night come when Cathy Tyson tells us of the death of her child and most moving action when Nick Harris in his role of a OCD sufferer tries to stroke the cello.

There are visual highlights too – not least of which when the huge wall of chairs comes slowly forward and then cascades onto the stage so close to the players that you think they are going to be buried.

The evening fittingly ends in chaos as the back wall collapses revealing the speakers and lights behind – followed by darkness. Perhaps signifying the final mask has fallen revealing the frailty that lays beneath.

The REP has staged the world premiere of this bold piece of theatre.

It was enthusiastically received and gave the audience much to think on.

I feel it will either go on from here to become a transatlantic ‘must see’ in the West End and on Broadway or it will fail to find an audience and disappear.

Time will tell.

Review by Euan Rose.

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