Back in 2005, the writer Tim Fountain staged a provocative performance piece at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs called Sex Addict that would see him go off to have a sex date that had been arranged live online, in front of the audience, and chosen for him from a range of prospective participants by them.
Now another regular Royal Court writer, Anthony Neilson, is staging one of his devised pieces in the same space. He developed The Prudes with the actors during rehearsals and re-wrote up to the day of the show's press opening. And it's also, curiously, about sex and voyeurism, and the audience becomes witness to an elaborately-staged attempt to reignite a couple's sex life. The couple – who've been together for nine years, and living with each other for six – haven't had sex for 14 months and 4 days (she's been counting).
Tonight is make-or-break night: she's given him an ultimatum. If he doesn't rise to the occasion, so to speak, it's over between them. (Nothing like a bit of pressure, then). It's never quite explained why the audience is being made to bear witness to this, like some kind of weird Big Brother television experience; but I suppose it ups the ante (and allows the characters to have someone else to confide in).
Or perhaps it's not meant to be realistic. James, who is 39, has found himself guilt-stricken by a past relationship that he now realises may not have been fully consensual; and he recently found out something that may have also amounted to abuse in his partner Jess's past. Part confessional, part confrontational, it raises important questions around male guilt – and the newly difficult terrain of sustaining relationships against that backdrop and the everlasting ones of sustaining desire in them.
It is played with immense charm – as well as pockets of real distress – by Jonjo O'Neill and Sophie Russell. A provocative, powerful and challenging evening.
The Prudes Tickets are available now.