With Smoke, US playwright Kim Davies has created a fascinating and vaguely uncomfortable exploration of sado-masochism.
John is an intern to an increasingly needy, but very famous, artist. Julie is the artist’s 20-year-old daughter, who has dropped out of college and has decided to explore her darker side. They meet in the kitchen at an S&M party, where they hope to sneak a cigarette.
Davies’ play fizzes with awkward sexual tension and, once the couple click, it becomes a fascinating game of cat and mouse. What adds to the frisson is that we are never quite sure who is the cat and who is the mouse.
As John, Vincent Santvoord is charming and slightly vulnerable until he is invited into role-play with Kristin Winters’ cynically abrasive Julie.
His anger boils up and the knives come out – literally as well as figuratively. All the pent-up rage of class, privilege and self-loathing explode on stage in a final toe-curling 10 minutes that’s difficult to watch and impossible to miss.
For all the excruciating realism of this S&M encounter, it’s just a shame that the chain-smoking looks so obviously fake. It’s a minor point though in a thrilling production that questions the parameters of consent and how we observe them.