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True Love Lies

Sarah Tierney wonders why Brad Fraser is censoring himself in his new play at the Royal Exchange

Published on February 4th 2009.

True Love Lies

Brad Fraser's last play at the Royal Exchange, Cold Meat Party, came with a warning to audiences about its 'adult themes'. His latest one, True Love Lies, has no disclaimers attached. Is it that the Royal Exchange has become more daring in what it lets through without a caution? Or just that Brad Fraser, the firebrand of Canadian playwriting, has become more tame?

Fraser has been bringing edgy stories about complicated, urbanite relationships to the Royal Exchange for a decade now. The shock factor in the past came from nudity, simulated gay sex, and dialogue that would have made a hen party shift uncomfortably in their seats.

This new play has none of the first two and although there's plenty of the latter, the result is noticeably less 'in your face' than earlier works. It's not that Fraser's themes have changed: sex, drugs, pornography, messy relationships – they're all there. It's that his approach to them is different.

True Love Lies centres on a relatively average Canadian family (mom Carolyn, dad Kane, 21-year-old daughter Maddy, and teenage brother Royce) whose lives are disrupted when Kane's ex boyfriend, David, arrives in town. David's existence isn't a shock to Carolyn (Teresa Banham); he was still on the scene when Kane (John Kirk) and her first met. But Dad's two-year gay relationship is news to the kids, Maddy and Royce (Amy Beth Hayes and Oliver Gomm).

“You were a fudge-packer,” Royce sensitively observes, his father's “artistic and tasteful” nature suddenly making a lot more sense to him.

“Were you in love?” probes Maddy, more impressed than disturbed by her father's links with the handsome, wry David (Jonny Phillips).

Both youngsters have an internet-age attitude to sex: jaded, shameless and deeply confused. Royce may be homophobic but he doesn't shy from googling pornographic images of David on the net, and Maddy views monogamy as more unusual than promiscuity.

Amy Beth Hayes plays this ultra-confident young woman excellently. Maddy's sophisticated, okay-with-everything approach to sexual encounters (and her cluelessness when it comes to their attendant emotions) is recognisable and well-observed. Oliver Gomm as Royce plays his role for laughs more than realism. It's a very funny, very fast script with a joke rate that rivals the sharpest US sitcoms, and Gomm gets many of the best lines.

Soon Maddy is asking David round for a family meal, and Carolyn, wanting to show the ex how intact her marriage to Kane is, seconds the invite. In the dinner scene that follows the children strive to provoke the older generation with their revelations, outbursts, and sluttish outfits. But in the end it's the mother Carolyn who unintentionally proves the most shocking when she blithely comments that “Kane's whole thing with David wasn't real.”

The contrast between married family life and single gay life is ever present. While the family banter in their backyard, David is on-stage but unlit and out of the action, sitting in his restaurant alone. Later, Carolyn stands frozen at the kitchen sink while elsewhere, David shares secrets with her daughter. Marriage is lonely too, it says, and to suggest that this relationship model is more stable and “real” than any other is a mistake.

As the play develops, Carolyn, Maddy, and Royce all make discoveries about what they want out of their sexual relationships. The difference is that, as young people in 2009, Maddy and Royce have to do so a lot younger than their middle-aged mother – and you get the impression that neither generation has got it quite right. One learns too late, the other too fast.

In the past Fraser has gone all out to shock the audience with explicit sex scenes. Now he seems more interested in showing the effects that over-exposure to sex and an 'anything goes' attitude can have. “You have no internal censor at all,” David tells the gutter-mouthed Maddy. The playwright this time round knows when to stop.

But though he's turned down the shock value for True Love Lies, he hasn't muted the astuteness or wit. And ultimately it was these features – and not the naked men and x-rated action – that made his plays stand out in the first place.

True Love Lies. Royal Exchange Theatre. Until 21 February. £8.50 – £29. 0161 833 9833. www.royalexchangetheatre.co.uk

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AnonymousFebruary 4th 2009.

Lovely review, catches the mood of the piece right. I prefer this phase of Fraser's writing.

a canadianFebruary 4th 2009.

We saw this play last night and agree with the review shown above. This was a bit tamer than Francis' other work, but still portraying real life. I must say though that I thought it was unnecessary to have the actor speak in what is supposed to be a Canadian accent. I wonder where the dialect coach came from.

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