Sex Cells at The Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

Sex Cells
Sex Cells

A title like Sex Cells is bound to attract attention. And the theme of Anna Longaretti’s play, which is less about sex and much more about motherhood, adds depth to the premise.

The setting is the office of Aphrodite, a sex toy seller, where four women take calls from purchasers seeking pleasure in gadgets like Teasy Maids and rotating pearl g-strings (don’t ask). There is Lily (Lucinda Toomey), middle aged and frumpy, more at home in the kitchen where she is an excellent cook, though hers is no home as the marriage within it went off before it even started.

Then there’s Sylvie (Karen Welsh), French, middle-class and desperate for a baby having almost bankrupted herself with IVF. Lovely Welsh Tiffany (Ally Gibson) is a good-time girl, forever partying and happily going through men like there’s no tomorrow. Finally, there’s Janice (Stephanie Surrey), married with five kids, and a willing slave to their demands. The one male in the play is the manager Mr Causeway (Philip Hickson), a disappointed man with a lonely background, who falls for Lily.

The central plot line is Sylvie’s willingness to do anything for a baby, not so much as it turns out to raise a real-life child but to be pregnant, to feel a sense of identity in the helpless dependence of one upon another. Her idealism is at odds with the real-world experience of the others, and yet her sadness and her anger at yet another miscarriage were palpable.

The other tragedy in this bittersweet comedy is Lily’s relationship with her estranged son. We never find out why he breaks off contact with her, but a realistic plot isn’t quite what this play is about. It’s more a showcase for the disappointments as well as the desires of love in all its forms.

The playing and direction are, as always with the Bear Pit, superb, and the audience, most of whom were woman of all ages, some dressed for a girl’s night out, were captivated. This is very much a play centred on female experience, and there were a lot of good jokes at the expense of men. If the barbs were covered in fake fur they were the funnier for that.