Some of you may have heard of an app called Grindr. It is a social app for gay men that enables them to chat and arrange to meet up. Okay, it may be a bit more than that but once again I must remember my mother reads these things. Anyway, if I was to download it and switch it on now, two things would become apparent very quickly. The first is that a lot of people take really bad photographs which seem to cut off their heads and the second is that the world is divided into those that say ‘chems OK’ and those that say ‘No Chems’. Being firmly on the ‘No Chems’ side, it is interesting to delve, if only briefly, on the other. Such an opportunity is available as Patrick Cash’s play The Chemsex Monologues makes a welcome return to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
As the title suggests, The Chemsex Monologues are a series of monologues dealing with the subject of chemsex. They basically follow the story of Nameless (Denholm Spurr) one of those beautiful young gay men seen cruising Compton Street. He is introduced to us by the narrator (Kane Surry) who runs into him at a Vauxhall club. On the surface, Nameless is to paraphrase the saying, young, dumb and full of fun, but underneath, he is a young lad who has probably sailed through life without any real hassles and has found his happiness in London tasting everything that the gay scene has to offer. But there is something missing from his life. He seems to yearn for a real relationship with another person but believes that can only happen with the help of drink, drugs and sex. So, after running into his favourite porn star, the two of them head off to a ‘chillout’ session at Old Mother Meph’s. Here, he sees Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte) who is there with her GBF Steve. At another party, Nameless runs into Sexual Health Worker Daniel (Matthew Hodson). As we follow Nameless on his hedonistic journey around London we encounter happiness, joy, despair, betrayal, friendship and tragedy.
This is the second time I have seen The Chemsex Monologues and I have to say it really stands up to a second viewing. In fact, my entire interpretation of the story has changed completely on a second viewing, as have my thoughts about the various characters. Just as in real life, how the audience interacts with the characters will depend on a lot of factors that are outside of the control of the writer and Director Luke Davies. However, the important thing I think is that no matter who you are, you will get something out of the superb writing of Patrick Cash and the characters he has created. There is a real sense of realism about each of them that makes them more than just actors telling a story. The five monologues are interweaved together, with an overarching story in the life of Nameless, but are also individual to the speaker enabling the audience to get to know and identify with each of the characters in their own right. The writing manages to tread the fine line between being judgemental and glamourising chemsex superbly.
This is writing of the highest calibre and the production is delivered by a highly talented cast who are well up to the task. My personal favourite, both in performance and character is Matthew Hodson’s Daniel. The character resonates with me on a personal level as my reaction to the situations Daniel finds himself in would be pretty similar. Matthew himself didn’t actually look as if he is acting at any point and I could imagine that had I met him in the bar afterwards, he would have been exactly the same as he was on stage. Least liked character? I’m afraid it was Cath. Well, not so much least liked as one I felt most sorry for. Cath is a deluded individual who has not managed to move on in her life and doesn’t really understand that her friend Steve is not the same man he had been. Possibly the saddest and most frustrating scene in the story is the final part of Cath’s monologue – I can’t say why as we want to avoid spoilers – but when you see it you will understand.
The direction is light touch, and appropriate for each character, so Nameless moves a lot. He’s up and down and wanders over the stage as he tells his monologue. The Narrator is less animated in his time, sitting on the chair and talking directly the audience. I’m also going to mention the sound design by Josh Spear which works extremely well to add to the atmosphere of the scene. So when Nameless and the Narrator are outside the Vauxhall club, the music can be heard subtly in the background reminding you of the sweaty mass of hedonists just feet away from the two men.
Summing up then I found The Chemsex Monologues as superb a production the second time around as when I saw it the first time. Whether you have played around with chems or not, this play works on every level with its very human story of people caught up in a world that while alien to many at first will be fully comprehensible when the show finishes. Overall, The Chemsex Monologues is an awesome production that definitely deserves to be seen at least once.
Since July 2014, I've seen and reviewed 588 shows altogether. 2017 was a fairly quiet year with a total of 132 shows visited by yours truly.
So, in the best traditions of end of the year ideas, here is my list of the top 10 shows that I've seen this year. Please remember, this is my list not anybody else's and if you don't agree with the pick, well, what can I say?
1.Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bridewell Theatre This story of friendship and hope took two drag queens and a trans woman from Sydney to Alice Springs, in a big pink bus. Along the way, the met new friends and face rampant homophobia. SEDOS brought every element of the show together beautifully, and to a standard that you would expect to see in the West End. Sold out virtually as soon as it was announced, this was the ‘must see production of the year. 2.La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon Theatre This is was a touring production of a show that demonstrates the importance of family and how much a parent will s…
Southern Baptist Sissies
Above the Stag is a theatre that specialises in putting on LGBT+ shows. I’ve been there a couple of times previously and seen some very well produced and very funny plays about gay life. So, I was really looking forward to another visit last night to see their latest show, the European premiere of Southern Baptist Sissies by Del Shores.
This is the story of four people emerging from childhood and becoming adults. These boys are all from the great state of Texas – the ‘buckle’ in the bible belt – and all are regular attendees at their small town Baptist church presided over by a real old fashioned ‘wrath of God’ style preacher (Stephen Parker). The four boys are all really good friends who each bring something different to the group. So, there is preacher’s son Mark (Jason Kirk) the thinker, TJ (Daniel Klemens) the brawn, Andrew (Hugh O’Donnell) the introverted and…
A theatre show is often like a swan. Out on stage, all is serene and beautiful whilst backstage there is a hive of activity going on. There have been various shows written about life backstage at a theatre – Noises Off springs to mind, though I’ve still not got around to seeing it. However, if you would like to see life backstage during a Christmas show, then you can do no better than toodle off to the Waterloo East Theatre to see Shaun Kitchener’s play Christmas Farce.
Thirty minutes – or in theatrical parlance, The Half – before curtain up and Alice (Natalie Lester) is the only person in the Green Room of a regional theatre. The fact it is Christmas is demonstrated not only by Alice’s OTT festive jumper but also with the gaudy decorations festooning the place. These are the handiwork of back-stage worker Makenzie (Marc-Gee Finch) and, while they are a tad tacky, they do add a sort of desperate fe…