This finely-wrought ensemble piece demands a certain amount of concentration, but pays you back with superbly-structured performances and an involving, thought-provoking storyline. It captures key moments in the lives of four separate women: a proud Scottish servant from the early 1900’s, an Irish woman seeking escape from a controlling relationship, an Italian mother who struggles to care for her family and a French traveller, exploring the world. These four women never meet, and their stories never intertwine, but Linda McLean’s masterful script finds insightful parallels between their seemingly unrelated tales.
McLean pulls this trick using complex interlocking monologues, with a sentence spoken by one woman often the jumping-off point for the next chapter in a different character’s life. That could be profoundly confusing – and at first, I’ll admit, I had to make a conscious effort to keep up – but after a while the rhythm of the piece seduced me, and I came to welcome the frequent switches in focus among the four-member cast. Each of the characters is, in her own way, strong, and there are four powerful performances to match. Tonje Wik Olaussen’s direction is physically restrained, throwing the focus very much on script and voices, and weaving a perfectly-pitched soundscape from the numerous interruptions and shared lines.
The stories themselves cover well-trodden ground, but the juxtapositions between them make them thought-provoking all the same. The “sex” of the title is certainly there – particularly in one hilariously euphemistic passage from the newly-wedded Scot – but this is really a piece about family: how some women want children, others stay footloose, and others still have their loved ones tragically taken away. With four stories being told, there’s room to reflect the variety of human hope and experience, and to acknowledge that women (like people in general) don’t all have the same view of the world.
The “God” part of the story worked less well for me. The women do all come from Christian societies, and religious fatalism begins to creep in towards the end, but overall the influence of faith seems a relatively minor one. That’s not a problem in itself, of course – but the presence of God in the title does hint at something challenging or provocative, which never quite arrives.
This is, then, a set of mortal human stories, adroitly portrayed by a diverse yet uniformly-talented cast. The pace builds gradually towards an electrifying conclusion, and you’re left guessing until the very last moment how each of the four stories is going to end. In summary, this is one of the more complex pieces of theatre you’re likely to see this Fringe – but it’s also among the most rewarding.