Brighton Festival Review: The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety***

Posted On 06 Jun 2018 at 12:41 pm

The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety is a strange and bewildering piece. Part concert, part dramatic reading, it blurs the lines of what you expect ‘theatre’ to deliver.

Set amongst hundreds of music stands and a back wall made up to stacked chairs, it feels as though we are stationed behind the scenes of a concert, seeing something private, not intended for public consumption.

The four actors take turns to read their texts, Miltos Yerolemou delivering a stern reading of The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, Mairead McKinley reading an impossibly awkward account of her sex life, entirely devoid of sexuality or pleasure. Nick Harris’s monologue about his medicated anxiety provides some much needed comedic relief, before Cathy Tyson’s devastating story of the loss of a child brings us a back into line with the emotional direction of the piece.

György Ligeti’s String Quartet No.2 provides unsettling, anxiety inducing punctuation between each of these stories, superbly played by the Heath Quartet. We transition over to Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 somewhere around the middle of the performance, at which time the perspective of each character shifts ever so slightly towards an acceptance of their respective situations, grim though they may be.

Each character was portrayed convincingly, by an unquestionably talented cast, though a lot was asked of the audience in terms of emotional attachment. To have characters displaying such raw grief and pain within the first few moments of the performance, before any connection could be made to their lives, situations or personalities, left me feeling more detached than sympathetic to their situations.

It was a refreshingly different kind of performance, but one which left me with mixed feelings. The devastating blow that it tried to make, somehow didn’t quite hit the mark.

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