Comedy play “Changing the Sheets” looks at what happens when two strangers in their 20s end up in bed together, says first-time playwright Harry Butler.
“It’s everything they say in the bedroom, once the door closes,” he says. “The quality of pillow talk and the intimacy of that and being in bed with a stranger.”
In short, it’s about: how casual is casual sex?
Set in Dublin, it’s about a guy and a woman who meet on a dating app, says actress Máiréad Tyers, who co-stars in it with Butler.
Butler skipped over the first date though so that the play starts with the action. Although, to clarify, there is no action.
Instead, Butler and Tyers stand at opposite sides of the stage and verbalise the conversations and other noises.
“It’s the words, the sounds, all of the bits,” says Butler. “It’s almost like we are performing the transcript.”
Tyers says her character, Patti, has been burned by the dating scene by the time she meets Butler’s character, Robert.
That is a common feeling among women her age, she says. “Lots of people by the time they hit their mid-20s feel that they have suffered through the dating experience.”
She used her friends’ experiences to build the character of Patti, even during the last six months in rehearsals, she says.
She originally thought the play would appeal mainly to people in their 20s who grew up in the world of online dating. But people of all ages said they could relate to the characters’ experiences, she says.
It is a universal story. “Harry has captured what it means to date,” says Tyers. “The suffering of it and the enjoyment as well.”
Casual sex is never that simple, says Butler. “At least in my experience it isn’t and for these characters it’s not. They do walk into something a bit stickier.”
Butler is an experienced actor who trained in the Lir Academy in Trinity College. “Changing the Sheets” is the first play he has written.
He decided to go with characters around his own age and a situation he could relate to.
His first concern, he says, has been that he wasn’t sure other people would identify with his idea of pillow talk. But after a short run in London lots of people said that they recognised the scenes.
“That is kind of gas to me but it’s a good sign,” says Butler.
Being the writer and lead actor was nerve-wracking in the run-up to the first performance, he says. The subject matter being sex compounded the fear.
“I was absolutely bricking it,” he says, smiling on a Zoom call from London. “When I’m just acting in something I’m fine with nerves.”
It is different when you wrote the play and it’s supposed to be funny. Thankfully, the audience laughed, he says.
The conversations start out as lighthearted. “It begins as a very funny, haha this is about sex,” says Bulter.
“But as happens with these kinds of relationships you get to know each other a bit better and the mask kind of slips off,” he says.
His character has issues with food. Trying to get the tone of that right within a comedy was a bit of a challenge, he says.
“If you are dealing with something that could be personal to an audience member you have to be more careful,” says Butler.
His character is a bit like him or perhaps like some of his friends, he says. “I made him a bit less self-aware, which is fun to play.”
“Changing the Sheets” has its Irish premiere in the Smock Alley Theatre as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival, on 17 September and runs for three nights.
Tickets are booked out since only 18 people are allowed in the theatre due to Covid-19 restrictions, he says. But Butler says that he hopes it’ll get another run once restrictions ease.