King’s Head Theatre Pub – 1st – 24th October. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Peter Darney has amalgamated and recombined over 50 hours of anonymous interviews to create a fantastic piece of verbatim drama. With the programme including a glossary of terms for the uninitiated, we are introduced to the gay Chill-Out scene.
J (Damien Hughes) is the host of the party, and welcomes 4 men into his home. They immediately get comfortable, changing into shorts (for easy access), snorting drugs and chatting about their preferences and experiences.
The characters are well written and just about manage to avoid stereotypes. J is funny and relaxed, M (Tom Holloway) has a melancholy side, R (Elliot Hadley) and B (Michael Matrovski – nonchalantly displaying his backside all night) are a couple – R is hyperactively camp and Northern, and B is older, more composed and occasionally menacing. PJ (Shri Patel) is an Asian man who appears out of his depth at first.
In between the drug taking (whilst bemoaning the fact that nobody climaxes because of all the drugs), dancing and simulated sex acts, the characters share hysterical anecdotes about their previous parties and misadventures with drugs. The etiquette of sex parties is debated, and wonderful examples of what happens when rules aren’t followed are shared with glee. There are a few wince inducing stories, but they are told with such openness and honesty that you end up laughing along with the actors.
The tone gradually darkens as the party goes on. J and B’s nonchalant attitudes to their HIV status crumble as they tell of the nights on which they were infected. Both actors effortlessly allow the veneer of bravado to be stripped away revealing heartbreaking regret and vulnerability. The relationship between R and B becomes increasingly questionable as R reveals his past – Elliot Hadley’s almost childlike honesty and helplessness as he speaks is a revelation after his earlier frenetic performance. PJ’s experiences as a gay Pakistani going along with an arranged marriage are portrayed matter of factly and with a sense of acceptance and loss by Patel. Tom Holloway conveys the deep dissatisfaction and emptiness of M’s life expertly. The man needs a hug.
The actors work together brilliantly and the superb writing makes the audience feel as if we are voyeurs at the flat. This conceit is cleverly continued as the audience leaves the theatre. There is no curtain call, instead the actors remain in character and silently (apart from a few grunts and groans) continue with the party.
Yes, there is nudity, sex, drugs and strong language, but this isn’t a glorified peep show. Observations about gay men seeing sex as a pastime, the ridiculous reality of sex parties, and R’s confession that he prefers to cuddle in bed and watch a DVD, are just some of the things that combine to make 5 Guys Chillin’ a funny, revealing, brutally honest and ultimately sad drama. This is a party you should not miss.