Soho Theatre, London (****)

© Helen Maybanks, James Clyde as `smoothie' Miles, Amy Morgan (Dee)

© Helen Maybanks, James Clyde as `smoothie’ Miles, Amy Morgan (Dee)

If there was such a thing as `chick-lit’ in theatre, this would be the nearest thing to it.

But that would neither be respectful nor entirely accurate. The phenomenon that has become Vicky Jones, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the company they formed, DryWrite, carries far greater weight than that slightly disreputable moniker would suggest.

It all started with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag at Edinburgh, which became a sensation then moved equally to sell-out runs at London’s Soho Theatre and which then proceeded to spawn a tv series of the same name. Fleabag’s director, Vicky Jones meanwhile was making her own waves with her debut play, The One, a 2013 Verity Bargate winner.

What Fleabag and The One both shared and which continues here in Jones’s sequel is exploration of sex and the single girl. Think Bridget Jones and a rougher, coarser, more daring version of Sex and the City but from a single-focussed protagonist. Or it could be subtitled, Three Steps to Bisexuality.

We live in a gender fluid age and Jones, moving on from The One’s investigation into the sexual games played between men and women, goes one step further into gender confusion, experimentation and curiosity in a way that absolutely reflects the sexual mores of today with, if not delicacy, a racey kind of roller-coaster honesty.

© Helen Maybanks, Edward Bluemel as up-for-anything, Paddy, and Amy Morgan as Dee

© Helen Maybanks, Edward Bluemel as up-for-anything, Paddy, and Amy Morgan as Dee

As I watched Jones’s Welsh innocent, Dee (Amy Morgan), making her way through various boy friend types and on into her first lesbian encounter, I thought how different it would have been for most of my mother’s generation, seventy/eighty odd years ago. Not that there weren’t always sexual explorers and the independent-minded.

But these days, any woman can! The sexual and other freedoms so taken for granted now are charted by Jones in all their pungent messiness and humour.

Dee herself lives in a bit of a pigsty. First James Marlowe’s Eddie tries to `train’ her into cleaner living. She’s having none of it. Then she moves on to Edward Bluemel’s younger stud and in a hilarious, if rather touching moment, cross-dresses him in one of her frocks. It works for him, not for her.

© Helen Maybanks, Amy Morgan (Dee), Matthew Aubrey as Sam from Swansea...

© Helen Maybanks, Amy Morgan (Dee), Matthew Aubrey as Sam from Swansea…

In between, there’s Miles, into domination and `mutual’ pleasure and a rather crude mouthpiece for right-wing cynicism whilst lurking in the wings is former Welsh boy-friend, Sam (Matthew Aubrey), a sometime plumber called up to London to fix Dee’s loo (she uses a shower instead), but only too ready to ditch his pregnant Swansea girl-friend and lure Dee back to her homeland.

Meanwhile, in the background is Naana Agyei-Ampadu’s Vera, ready and willing to encourage Dee to experiment a little further, to find out who truly wants to be.

© Helen Maybanks, Amy Morgan (Dee), Naana Agyei-Ampadu (Vera)

© Helen Maybanks, Amy Morgan (Dee), Naana Agyei-Ampadu (Vera)

Less a `sentimental’ education than a journey of self-discovery, Touch neatly takes the pulse of the 30s-somethings female metropolitan generation and finds it ultimately female-determined.

Jones directs with a lighthearted effervescence to what could potentially be a far more painful reality. Amy Morgan’s Dee brings an open-hearted bounciness to Dee, Agyei-Ampadu a snorting kind of self-confidence but also vulnerability to Vera. Edward Bluemel shines as the cocky posh lad, Paddy whilst James Clyde’s louche Miles is interestingly, apart from Vera, the most self-aware. Why, he keeps asking Dee `are you here?’ She can’t really answer.

Curiosity, curiosity, Dee…danger. You have to try it and see.

A new play by Vicky Jones 

Dee: Amy Morgan
Eddie: James Marlowe
Vera: Naana Agyei-Ampadu
Miles: James Clyde
Paddy: Edward Bluemel
Sam: Matthew Aubrey

Director: Vicky Jones
Set & Costume Designer: ULTZ
Lighting Designer: Richard Howell
Sound Designer: Isobel Waller-Bridge
Associate Sound Designer: Harry Johnson
Dramaturg: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Movement Director: Polly Bennett
Costume Supervisor: Claire Wardroper
Casting Director: Nadine Rennie CDG
Assistant Director: Lakesha Arie Angelo

Presented by Soho Theatre and DryWrite

World premiere of Touch at the Soho Theatre, London on July 6, 2017.
Running time 75 mins.

To Aug 24, 2017

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