Exclusive Interview: Sex/Crime Playwright & Actor Alexis Gregory

Playwright Alexis Gregory’s Sex/Crime, which he also stars in alongside East End queer cabaret legend Jonny Woo, opened at London’s Soho Theatre this week following a sold out run at The Glory. Directed by Robert Chevara, the gritty often darkly comic thriller is set in a fractured and divided city, where two men, who are referred to only as ‘A’ and ‘B’, meet to recreate the killings of an infamous gay serial killer, for their own pleasure…and the right price. The Queer Review’s Tomas Thornton called it: “A dark dash through the underbelly of a city gripped by murder as two men encircle each other, in a deep pit of lust, fetishism and pain. And it’s also very funny.” Take a read of his ★★★★ review here.

Sex/Crime’s co-star and writer Alexis Gregory took time between performances to chat exclusively to The Queer’s Review’s editor James Kleinmann.

Alexis Gregory. Photo credit: Afshin Feiz

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Tell us a bit about your writing experience prior to Sex/Crime and what inspired you to write this play?

Alexis Gregory: “I have been acting professionally since my teens and then in 2012, I had my first play Slap staged. My other plays Safe and Riot Act followed and Sex/Crime completes the current set! All of my work deals with challenging queer themes, but I hope it’s accessible and human too. It’s dramatic and stylised, but all of my work involves comedy too. I love making audiences laugh.”

“In initially creating Sex/Crime, I decided I wanted to create a queer thriller and so the gay serial killer theme seemed ideal. I knew that I didn’t want to just make it a ‘whodunnit’ though and so I came up with an idea that hopefully subverts expectation.”

Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory in Sex/Crime at London’s Soho Theatre. Production photography by Matt Pike.

Without giving too much away can you give us an insight into the initial setup of Sex/Crime and its characters. 

“Sure. It’s about two men who get together to recreate the killings of a famous gay serial killer. They are fetishising the acts of this unseen figure, who essentially, stalks the play. Sex/Crime is wild, dark, sexy and an outrageous comedy. The aim is to have audiences laughing one minute and then shocked into silence the next.”

Have you always had a serial killer fascination? 

“No, not at all. The serial killer angle is really a device to open up the action in the play and whilst we most definitely explore violence, murder, and how those who carry out such acts may do so without apparent remorse, the exploration of the murders is almost a metaphor for something else.”

Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory in Sex/Crime at London’s Soho Theatre. Production photography by Matt Pike.

Are there any novels, other plays or movies featuring serial killers that you found useful when coming to write the play?

“Yes, I was influenced by the William Friedkin film starring Al Pacino Cruising and I was also very interested in the response that the film received, and still receives many years later. I was interested in how queer people have been portrayed as villainous outsiders in popular culture over the years. Even Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, though not a queer reference point, was an inspiration for Sex/Crime, as he fights against the world, which is really him fighting against himself. Gregg Araki’s movies also influenced me as well as the 1990s ‘In Ya Face’ theatre movement. I was influenced by real life cases such as that of Stephen Port and Stefano Brizzi. I spoke to some police officers who worked on those cases and some of what they told, much of it new information, made it into the play.”

Sex/Crime Soho Theatre until February 1st. Production photography by Matt Pike.

What do you think Sex/Crime has to say about gay life in 2020? 

“It covers so many aspects of gay life. There’s sex, desire, role play, the masks we wear among ourselves, rejection, the way gay men treat other gay men, being accepted by society but still, often, being reminded that you are still on the fringes. Navigating relationships and sexual encounters, the drugs, gay shame, how society’s view of us affects our own views of ourselves. I could really go on! Let’s just say Sex/Crime is a multi-themed piece.”

How would you say the play has evolved from its initial run at The Glory to this current production at the Soho Theatre?

“We have actually restaged about 85% of it, in terms of how we move around the set. On the subject of the set, the design is also very different. Jonny, Robert and I have also returned to the script almost two years later. I have changed a lot in two years. Let’s face it, two years is a long time in gay years after all! So I hope that is reflected in how I, as an actor, approach my own text too. I understand my own play in a different way now.”

Jonny Woo in Sex/Crime at London’s Soho Theatre. Production photography by Matt Pike.

Tell us about collaborating with Jonny Woo…Did you write with him in mind? What’s he been like to work with on this show, it must be pretty intense with it being a two-hander?

“Jonny has been great and he is a fantastic actor, which may surprise people who only know him from his drag work. I didn’t write the part for Jonny. Originally he was going to direct the play and I wasn’t going to be in it all. But Jonny read the play and suggested we play the roles and there was no turning back from that. We then brought in Robert Chevara to direct, who has directed much of my work, and who was the perfect choice for this play. Jonny has been instrumental in Sex/Crime’s journey; providing it with a platform at The Glory and then helping us get it into Soho Theatre.”

In terms of portraying sex on stage in an intimate venue, could you tell me a bit about how you handled that aspect of the production and what it’s like as a performer? 

“I find intimate scenes difficult to do, believe it or not. There are intimate scenes in Sex/Crime and in the two most recent screen projects I acted in; LGBTQ web series The Grass Is Always Grindr and the short film Mankind. I don’t actually like to show my body off. I work out almost everyday and I watch what I eat, but it is more complicated than that. Whatever scenes I am doing, I just have to commit to them as an actor and throw myself in. The audience will be able to tell if I am holding back when I am performing and that is something I never do!”

Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory in Sex/Crime at London’s Soho Theatre. Production photography by Matt Pike.

What do you make of the current state of the London theatre scene, both West End and fringe, in terms of LGBTQ representation? How would you like to see it evolve or are you happy with how things are right now? 

“I think we are at a very interesting stage with it. I have never, in my lifetime, seen queer lives explored and presented across London stages; on the fringe, off West-End and in the West End, as they have been over the last couple of years. I would like to see more in the West End though. I guess the big ‘queer’ West End moment of recent years was The Inheritance. I don’t want to have to wait several years for the next one. I think its important that we continue to tell our stories, that we tell them truthfully and that, as queer theatre makers, we find new and brave and bold risky themes to explore and also that our stories are not sanitised or simply straight-washed to bring in and appease straight or queer audiences alike.”

Alexis Gregory. Photo credit: Afshin Feiz

You’re an actor as well as a writer, to what extent were you drawn to writing to create the kind of work you want to perform in? 

“As well as being the type of work I want to perform in, and I love performing in work created by other artists I admire too, I am drawn to creating and performing work that means something to me and hopefully the audience too. I’m drawn to work that tells a story, communicates a message, opens up a conversation or challenges the audience whilst entertaining them at the same time. That is my main goal as an artist. I love sharing ideas with an audience and I consider myself so fortunate that I am able to so.”

Rivers Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho

Tell us about your favourite LGBTQ+ movie, play, music, artwork or novel; when you first encountered it and why it particularly resonates with you.

“My queer influences and queer muses are very important to me and there is much of my influences in my work. They range from Tony Kushner to the Pet Shop Boys to Sandra Bernhard. My ultimate piece of queer work would have to be My Own Private Idaho. I saw the film for the first time when I was about fifteen years-old and it blew me away and it still continues to do so. It still feels like a radical piece of queer work some thirty years later. I even liked James Franco ‘companion’ film My Own Private River created out of unseen outtakes. Idaho, and In Bed With Madonna/Madonna: Truth or Dare, which is another, in my opinion, monumental contribution to the queer cannon, are probably the films I have watched the most over the years. I still find something new in Idaho each time I watch it.”

In Bed With Madonna/Madonna: Truth or Dare

By James Kleinmann

Alexis Gregory wrote and stars in Sex/Crime alongside Jonny Woo which runs at London’s Soho Theatre until Saturday February 1st 2020. For more details on the production and to book tickets, head to the Soho Theatre’s website.

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