Expectations

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Tate and Max make a bet. Whoever has sex with Billie first gets a tenner.

I know someone like Max. He’s a smarmy charmer whose pout makes you want to hit him, but when he addresses you, everyone else slinks to the periphery and you feel like the only person in the world. He has a sideways smile and can get pretty much any girl he likes. He’s exactly the type you’d expect to see sex as a game.

Max’s housemate and landlord Tate is the opposite. He’s full of awkwardness and worries, the kind of guy who would never fit in to a group of lads on a night out. He’s thoughtful. I expected better of him.

They live above the Bedford Pub (nice room, chairs could be comfier). While their flatmate Evie is finding herself if Malaysia, they pick up Billie, the middle aged woman in limbo who dances by herself next to the jukebox.

Expectations shows the inherent sense of entitlement that men are taught they can have over female bodies. Trying to get with Billie veers between a game for Max and for Tate an attempt at proving his self-worth. The enjoyment the pair get from salivating over the thought of fucking the woman they see as a MILF is uncomfortable, perhaps more so because they take advantage of her maternal qualities too. It’s the tenner that shows how vile the game really is, because it’s not about the money or the prize. It’s about the pride, the glory, the knowledge that you oozed that much more charm. Or maybe it’s that you were there at the right time, when she was feeling vulnerable or sad or like she wanted company or comfort or sex. And you happened to be the one she stumbled into.

Some boys do this thing where they pay you a lot of attention, then as soon as they’ve got you they stop making the effort, and only regain it once they think they’re going to lose you. Tate demonstrates this beautifully, and it’s clear that he doesn’t understand how his big speeches of apology and philosophy don’t make up for his lack of attentiveness on an everyday scale. Max’s attitude is less apologetic and more coasting. Everything feels a little futile with these boys, like nothing will really change them significantly. While this causes a bristling frustration, Expectations doesn’t push any boundaries. Nothing is taken as far as it could be, with threads dropped in and lost, and character arcs rather shallow. The two most exciting ideas in the script- the bet and a lone mention to Max’s first sexual encounter- are left to trail off without further exploration.

The bet is a representation of everything vile about lad culture and depicts how much sex is about conquering new ground. Another girl in the mix is just a new player to get a level up. This could be a fascinating exploration of our attitudes towards sex if pushed further. It could also have a real element of shock and disgust if the bet was hidden from us and only revealed much later. Instead we see the formulation of the bet and there is little mystery, suspense or tension. The opportunity for this change in tone comes with the reveal about Max’s first relationship: He was underage, she was not. ‘There’s another word for it’, Tate says. The word rape hangs in the air for a moment but is quickly swept away and never mentioned again. This felt like a moment that could have flipped our understanding upside down. If this is the reason for Max’s playful, throwaway attitude to sex, it makes his character so much deeper. It felt like a missed opportunity to tighten the bolts on the core of the play.

The pace of the direction feels stilted and makes it hard to fall into the story. Curtis clearly has a natural understanding of dialogue and the script is promising, but the crux is thinned out by too much dancing, small talk and not enough conflict. Expectations attempts to present the messy sexual relations we are dealt in this age of uncertainty, and has the beginnings of interesting conversations on the sexual politics of our day.

I just wish they’d cut out the drunk dancing scenes, those are always hard to pull off.

Theatre N16, 18/07/16