You may not know the technical term, but I’m guessing many reading this will know the sensation: skin hunger. Humans are social animals, and one of our social needs is touch, and the (hopefully) pleasant sensation it brings. Expanding that into sexual desire, for most people, is also something craved, and the lack of it can lead to terrible psychological distress. So why shouldn’t people be allowed to pay for these services, and for someone to provide them, without shame or moral quandry? What happens between consenting adults is no one else’s business – but what happens when sex, which can be such an intimate act, is a business?
Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays, Animals) once again turns her deft hand to people exploring their freedom, sexuality, and sexual desire in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Written by Katy Brand, starring Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, this is an absolute banger of a (almost complete) two-hander, addressing sexual needs, sexual awakening, privacy, sex work, and intimacy in all its forms.
Nancy (Thompson) is just passed 60 years of age, recently widowed, recently retired, and as she readily admits, has lead a very mundance life. Her job was dull, her children bore her, she doesn’t seem to feel the loss of her husband. But she does feel the loss of time, specifically time devoted to her own sexual pleasure, which has been decidely absent her entire life. Enter Leo Grande (McCormack), a sex worker Nancy has hired. Leo has a varied clientele with a variety of needs and desires, not always centred around sex.
Leo Grande isn’t just a person, of course, but a performance. Leo knows that his clients each want a different experience; each experience requires a different Leo to perform for them, and, like any good sex worker, Leo knows his job well. He doesn’t always get it right at first, but he has a talent for sensing what his clients want. And he knows that, while Nancy craves the kind of sex she dutifully lists for him, she always wants intimacy of the more cerebral kind, that leads into good sex.
Leo knows that Nancy needs care and confidence; he provides that to her. And even though she knows that she is paying him for this service, the result is the same. Almost every scene happens in one hotel room, almost in real time, and yet Hyde never allows us to be bored. With as much intimacy (arguably more) than a live theatre piece, we are privy to how Leo learns and teaches, and how Nancy adapts and grows. It’s a quiet joy to watch Nancy and Leo talk at one moment about blow jobs, and the next about the lies Leo tells his mother to protect her from the truth of his profession.
Even if Nancy thinks she’s educated and a feminist, she still has some rather arcance ideas of how women should behave, and how she thinks Leo should feel about his job. Even if Leo thinks he’s just performing a service, he often fails to see the effect that service can have in a negative way. Brand’s script does not shy away from a bit of skewering of heteronormativity and the rigid moral structure most cultures have placed on sexual pleasure and its connection to sex work, the need that most humans have for touch and connection.
It won’t come as a surprise that Thompson shines in this role, mixing her comedic and dramatic talents to portray a somewhat atypical character for the actress, with a bravery to showing this woman’s most vulnerable side almost immediately. McCormack more than holds his own; he shows Leo’s journey as the opposite, at first keeping his mask firmly in place until this maddening client forces it off him. Hyde knows exactly how to place these characters before the camera, allowing them to be free in their discoveries, both good and bad.
With a fierce honestly and a dry wit, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande asks us all why we can’t enjoy touch, sex, pleasure, the way we want (safely, consensually), with or without strings, as human needs demand. Deceptively nuanced, it asks us to confront our own ideas of what makes us strong and happy, and how we view those who sell this kind of service.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
- Emma Thompson
- Daryl McCormack
- Isabella Laughland