What does intimacy mean to you? Physical closeness? Emotional connection? Being able to share any secret, any feeling? This tightly-written two-hander explores all of those meanings, as a pair of women – who haven’t met before today – draw each other ever deeper into an extraordinarily frank exchange. While Sarah Meadows’ script is notable at first for its sexual candour, there are subtler and more troubling kinds of connection in play.
Chloë’s the first to introduce herself: she’s a post-grad student, she says, conducting research into human sexuality and armed with a detailed questionnaire. She may have got more than she bargained for in her interview subject Nell, who’s joyfully libidinous and the living embodiment of “too much information”. There’s some humour in the mismatch, as Chloë’s clinical detachment meets Nell’s earthy plain dealing, but this isn’t played for cringey laughs; for me it was an education, explaining much about the female sexual experience which I’d never understood before.
And if you look beyond the carnal, you’ll find subtler and even more important themes. Central, to my mind, is the whole concept of consent: not the deceptively-simple question of whether someone’s said yes or no, but a thornier discussion around who – even in a relationship as transient as this one – is really in control. There’s also a thought-provoking clash of two different progressive philosophies: Nell’s the stiletto feminist, celebrating and sometimes exploiting her own physical appeal, while Chloë decries the glorification of women’s bodies as an irredeemable symbol of oppression.
There’s clearly something else coming, though, a past trauma or present shame waiting to be revealed. When we’re finally let in on the secret, it’s both shocking and credible, and upends everything we thought we knew about one or both of the characters. It’s now that Meadows’ script tackles what might be the trickiest question of all: why those who pour judgement onto women like Nell are so often women themselves. The answer she proposes is enlightening – and invites more sympathy than you might at first expect.
Caitlin O’Ryan is superb as Chloë – at first capturing an air of forced friendliness born of embarrassment at the situation, later dissolving into trembling self-loathing as the emotional intensity soars. As Nell, Imogen Greenwood is both gloriously sure of herself and annoyingly sure she’s right, though she too crumbles all too convincingly as the plot’s secrets are revealed. There are moments of high drama, but the most telling details are the subtle ones: the anxious turn of a character’s head, the delicate way she scrunches her hair.
Intimacy doesn’t set out to shock, but it is sexually frank to a degree rarely encountered on stage. Some will say it’s an awkward watch; others will cheer it as liberating. But however you respond, you’ll carry away important insights into topics that are seldom discussed: earthy ones, yes, but also questions about how we treat each other which defy glib resolution.