Adults: a searing sex comedy as beautiful as it is desolate

Anders Hayward and Conleth Hill in Adults
Anders Hayward and Conleth Hill in Adults - MIHAELA BODLOVIC

Given the high-profile cases in which married presumed heterosexual men have been revealed as having homosexual leanings, or come out as gay, with no little scandal attached, there’s a clear topicality to Kieran Hurley’s searing sex comedy Adults.

Iain, a closeted family man who visits an Edinburgh brothel seeking a young male prostitute, isn’t a TV personality, but a respected sixtysomething teacher. Still, the sense of a long-brewing crisis of sexuality coming to a head, and a life imploding in real-time, with social media piling on the agony when a compromising photo goes viral, will surely bring certain well-known names to mind.

The Traverse sometimes misfires when it programmes would-be on-the-button, near-the-knuckle, fare: witness last year’s Exodus, about a heartless Home Secretary trying to avoid the discovery of her (unlikely) concealment of a washed-ashore refugee baby. A baby – this time more wailingly present – is a dramatic ingredient here, too. But instead of only being a crude plot device, it’s typical of Hurley’s astuteness that it both stokes the play’s frenetic comedy and stirringly emblemises the strains afflicting the two men at the heart of the highly awkward transaction.

The “boy” that the tentative, sexually untutored Iain – played with diffidence and ingrained institutionalised hauteur by Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill – has requested for his inaugural session is in fact a not-so-young dad pushing 30: Anders Hayward’s gangly Jay, who, desperate for cash, has brought his mewling infant because there was no other option. It’s so inappropriate as to be a bit of a passion-killer (albeit the crying eventually abates) – not that Iain has much stride to be put off. He’s groping his way towards escaping a loveless marriage (with an empty nest to mourn too) and expressing a long-suppressed identity. It hasn’t helped that he’s almost immediately recognised by the “madam”, Zara (Dani Heron), a former pupil whose business-like demeanour masks bubbling anxieties too.

The whole very British spectacle has dark shades of Orton, as Iain stands awkwardly in his boxer-shorts, Zara arranges dildos like ornamental candles, and Jay toe-curlingly attempts ice-breaking chat and come-hither gyrations. The clumsiness and affectation of the characters contrasts with the surety, and truthfulness, of Hurley’s script – directed to perfection by Roxana Silbert, and acted to the hilt too.

It deftly grasps when to tickle out a laugh, and when to whip out something serious: there are lacerating lines about the cost of living crisis and the gig economy. But the subtext, and the barely articulated, is no less impactful. What are both men looking for? Some sliver of a future and a whisper of rare human affection. The closing image of hard-won embrace is as beautiful as it is desolate.

Until Aug 27. Tickets: 0131 228 1404;