Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: 'It Rains Diamonds On Jupiter' at the Drayton Arms Theatre, 22nd June 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

It's true you know. About the diamonds anyway. Atmospheric data for Jupiter indicates that lightning storms in the Jovian atmosphere turn methane into soot. Said soot hardens into lumps of graphite which in turn become diamonds that endlessly rain into the liquid sea of the planet's hot core. 

What that has to do with the story of a woman dealing with her sex worker past beats me, but it's certainly a striking title. Written by Eleanor Ross and directed by Anastasia Bruce-Jones, It Rains Diamonds on Jupiter tells the story of Olivia (Rosanna Suppa). We meet Olivia as a 20-year-old student who has decided to make some extra money by working as what's billed as an 'escort', but is actually just plain old sex work. Her clients seem happy enough, her boss Bill (Jacob Melling) takes his cut and she gets paid.

The meat of the story takes place a few years later, with Olivia now established as a journalist. Despite her efforts to maintain a low profile she ends up working on television news. Bill spots her, and suddenly her past threatens to ruin the present. Can her career, relationships and sense of self survive the intense stigma that society places on sex workers?

It's a good question, and Ross (and everyone involved with this production) has clearly spent a long time thinking and arguing about it. Throughout the play we see various perspectives on sex work: ranging from a self-professed feminist accusing Liv of betraying women by confirming men's misogynistic fantasies, through to sex work being a way for women to achieve financial independence. There's also a strong sense of class consciousness in the piece, with the script at pains to contrast Olivia's financial needs in comparison with her privileged colleagues (who can afford to take unpaid internships and so on).

What our heroine Olivia thinks is somewhat murkier. Her battle isn't about whether what she did was right, but dealing with intense fear and paranoia of how everyone will perceive her if they knew the truth about her past. While there is a growing movement to destigmatise sex work (impressively staged in the Bunker Theatre's recent Fuck You Pay Me), activists face a long uphill climb. Even in our theoretically liberated times, former and active sex workers are widely considered desperate, immoral and innately unclean, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

Suppa does a great job of filtering all this through Olivia: an honest, personable character who gradually unravels as she struggles to reconcile her present with her past. There are a lot of perceptively written and performed passages in which she teeters on the edge of a panic attack, her terror at being exposed visceral and touching. 

Though Suppa knocks it out of the park, the play is studded with smaller performances worthy of note. Duncan Hess' older client is an obvious highlight, rambling on and clearly nervous at what's expected of him. Jacob Melling's Bill is also interestingly complex, putting up an aggressive front to conceal an obvious shame burning at his core.

But for all these positives, It Rains Diamonds On Jupiter really feels like it needs a few more drafts. While I have no idea as to the play's production, it feels as if it arose from some intense group discussions about what sex work means, with the eventual narrative stretching to accommodate many points of view. This results in a loss of focus that muddies what's trying to be communicated.

It means that, particularly in the back half, there are narrative strands that simply don't go anywhere. Theoretically, the drama is powered by Olivia being blackmailed by Bill, though this quietly fizzles out as he apparently just decides to... stop? Similarly, there are extraneous (though still well written) scenes in which Olivia encounters a fellow sex worker, a bizarre non-sequitur involving a man whose wife is in labour and an ending that doesn't resolve anything. All of the above scenes tell us something about Liv, though Suppa's performance is good enough that she could be trusted to tell us them through her acting skill alone rather than didactic writing.

This might be why a play billed in advance as 1 hr 15 mins long actually comes closer to 1hr 45mins. A pair of sharpened editing scissors and a 'kill your darlings' approach would work wonders here - if some of the more meandering elements were snipped away this would be a powerful and memorable hour of theatre. 

The moment-to-moment writing is great, I have nothing but nice things to say about Suppa's central performance and the playwright clearly has her priorities in the right places. It's so close to being great, but some storytelling discipline would go a long, long way here.

It Rains Diamonds on Jupiter is at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 22nd June. Tickets here.

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