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  • REVIEW | The String Quartet’s Guide To Sex and Anxiety | Birmingham Rep
The String Quartet's Guide Credit: Robert Day

REVIEW | The String Quartet’s Guide To Sex and Anxiety | Birmingham Rep

When I first saw the posters for this production around Birmingham, I found myself looking at it thinking ‘Is it a play? Or is it a concert?’. This intrigue was sparked further when I looked up the production online, read the marketing copy and still feeling puzzled as to what this production was – making me keen to go along and watch it.

Director Calixto Bieito wanted to create a collaboration between actors and musicians. After realising he suffered anxiety disorder since he was a child, he wanted to create a show that displays anxiety. With a combination of text sources such as The Anatomy of Melancholy and WH Auden’s The Age of Anxiety, he uses these texts alongside actors and musicians to reflect the feeling of anxiety. The four actors each take on a different role and use monologues to tell their stories. Opening the show with clarity, this is soon lost throughout the production.

When I go and see theatre I am trying to stop saying ‘I didn’t get it’ as a desperate plea to try to unravel the layers and delve into the play to find something that may have clicked with me, until I realised that theatre really shouldn’t be that difficult. Theatre shouldn’t be wrapped in so many metaphors that you can’t get to the core of the production and feel the emotion that is meant to be felt.

Sadly this is one of those productions. Whilst there are moments that are strong, and I was engaged, the piece itself wasn’t cohesive and left me with more questions than answers. The actors, are incredibly strong and I can’t criticise their acting in the slightest, they deliver their lines with conviction and you do understand their characters.

Nick Harris is excellent and portrays the much-needed light relief in the show whilst still being informative. He describes his anxiety, listing all the pills he takes to settle his nerves. He delves into his back story and where his anxiety spurred from, and as a character, you really empathise and connect with him. Similarly, Mairead McKinley is plagued by anxiety and this is projected throughout her whole characterisation in a convincing way, and she cleverly manages to make her silence speak louder than her words.

Cathy Tyson creates curiosity as her character takes the longest to speak, but when she does she uses excellent storytelling to tell the story of the child she lost. Miltos Yerolemou opens the show with his speech that is compelling and creates a strong opening, however, his character throughout the play feels unclear and you don’t understand his relevance to the piece.

The String Quartet create beautiful and powerful music that interweaves between the text, although there is probably about 20 minutes of text in this 90-minute play. Although there are moments I understand, together these components just didn’t make sense, which ultimately meant I just didn’t feel anything. Understanding that it is aiming to create the feeling of anxiety, I spent too much time thinking really hard to try to get to grips with what everything meant, that I was unable to find enjoyment in the show.

The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety has lovely moments of theatre and music but weaved together it creates a production that just didn’t tie up, leaving me with the same perplexity I had on arrival.

This production has really divided opinion, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

On until Saturday 19th of May, tickets and information can be found online here.


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