Review: Next To You I Lie

Image credit: Michelle Spielberg

★★★★

Finola Geraghty, Trouble and Strife: “We wanted to create a story that combined the mainstream – page 3 – and the darker and more hidden side of porn. Interesting stuff emerged as we wrote – like the addictive and infective element to it all, which revealed it to be just as harmful to men as to women. It was inevitable that it was going to grow. And it has.”

Next To You I Lie is a play loaded both with historical significance and issues pertinent to the current world. Written by Trouble and Strife, a theatre company formed by Cambridge undergraduates in 1983, the play illustrates the glamour modelling industry of the 1980s and its effects on human relationships, examined through the perspective of three equally powerful female leads. Given its release in the male-dominated theatre scene of the 1980s, this itself gives the script a unique and insightful flair.

The play opens with a monologue – one of many – by Juliet (Thea Mead), an aspiring glamour model who has just been published for the first time. It follows Juliet as she struggles to further her career amidst the chaos and misogyny of the 1980s modelling world. Juliet’s mother, Paula (Ananya Mishra), a middle-aged, single (and lonely) bartender similarly strives to come to terms with her body and age. On the other hand, Sian (Sophie Atherton), Juliet’s close friend, contemplates the relationship between love, lust and porn.

A definitive strength of the play lies in its strong female characters, each with their own unique perspective and backstory. While Juliet defends porn, Sian and Paula argue for it being ‘poison’. Perhaps the most enticing moment of the play is its resolution, where the three leads come into conflict with their respective opinions; the play pushes a strong message as it asserts that there is neither a singular female perspective nor a conclusive answer to the problems of industries such as pornography. Another clear strength lies in the script of the play, which was both beautifully written and brilliantly executed in various monologues and conversations between characters.

Despite the phenomenal exposition and resolution of the play, it must be said that the build up was rather slow – I, personally, found myself looking at the clock a few times. This may be due to the fact that there is no solid ‘plot’ to the play, and it is rather more of an exploration – of characters, opinions and facts. As such, a play of this nature requires other strong elements, such as through the set, lightning and acting, in order to make up for the absence of narrative. However, I found these to be a bit lacking, perhaps due to the limits and constraints of university productions. The stage setting was minimal, with only a few chairs as props. The lighting, largely purples and oranges, somewhat complemented the strikingly powerful issues presented by the play. However, small changes – such as a few extra actors, in addition to the small cast of four – might have gone a long way in making better use of all the empty stage space and adding to a sense of chaos and change.

Overall, however, I must complement the team for making an incredible production, given the scope of the play. It is rare to see a production that so openly and fearlessly addresses typically taboo topics such as the female body and the diversity of female perspectives. That, for me, makes this performance a true stand-out and one of the most memorable plays I have seen at Cambridge.

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