With every other commuter reading Fifty Shades of Grey, you would be forgiven for thinking discretion had gone out of style, but perhaps it’s the thrill of secrecy fuelling the enduring swingers community. In the case of suburbanites James and Jennifer, it’s also vital to their plan for spicing up their marriage without alerting the curtain-twitching Surrey neighbours.
This juxtaposition of British reserve and hedonistic yearning offers a great opportunity for an Ayckbourn-esque middle-class comedy of manners, and writer/director Andy Moseley takes full advantage of that in the first third of Casual Encounters. There are enjoyable sitcom one-liners, sly observations about seeking refuge in etiquette and some neat visual jokes (swapping the matching cushions in particular) that clearly establish a wearying status quo before it’s violently disrupted.
David Scott-Lucas has a lot of fun with James’ overeager anticipation and peevish defensiveness, while Sandy Easby’s Jennifer is every inch the vexed, put-upon spouse, veering between worrying about dinner arrangements and struggling to rediscover her sexuality. The odd glimmer of vulnerability from both hints at the fact that this seemingly divisive activity could be the last opportunity to salvage a relationship gone stale.
Given the rise of “silver divorces”, this midlife-crisis-crossroads theme taps into the zeitgeist, but unfortunately Moseley isn’t content to stick with one genre and explore it in satisfying depth. Once the couple’s swinging partners are introduced, we lurch into a cheesy crime B movie, and I think finish with a spot of drawing-room farce – all of which is entertaining enough, but sacrifices our emotional commitment to these characters, as well as the chance to dig into the curious code and social structures of this clandestine community.