The Chemsex Monologues.
Kings’s Head Theatre.
23 March 2017
Finally the gay community are talking about the chemsex phenomena that is killing and destroying lives just as much as the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, particularly in London. With Matthew Todd’s excellent book, Straight Jacket, investigating and discussing the issue and articles now being written about gay men and loneliness, the big question is, with the closet unnecessary and a more equal society, why do so many gay men still feel isolated and suicidal? The arrival of meth and Tina on the scene is having devastating effects.
Patrick Cash is a fine writer, and this companion piece to his HIV Monologues is similar in style and presentation, the monologues are direct, explicit, honest and non-judgemental. It works because of strong characterisation and an excellent cast who work with director Luke Davies to create beautifully rounded, flawed, sympathetic characters. Cash gets beyond the dismissive labels of ‘twink’, ‘druggie’, ‘whore’, and gets to the nub of naked shame and loneliness. It’s no coincidence that the Queen song played is Someone To Love.
The cast excel. The Narrator, Kane Surry, frames the production beautifully, leading us into the nightlife, meeting a sexy boy who introduces him to the pleasure of G. Surry skilfully shows us the tension bubbling underneath, the young age of the boy, the quiet despair, and then meeting up with this sexy boy again at the end of the play, in very different circumstances, the narrator now sober, trying to help the boy. The Nameless boy is beautifully played by Denholm Spurr, sexy and vulnerable, witnessing the devastation around him but still partying, unable to stop. It’s poignant that almost all of the characters stay in this world because they feel there is nowhere else to go.
Charly Flyte gives a warm, funny, performance as Fag Hag Cath, finding herself at chill outs with her gay best friend, finding that they are now about the sex and that her friend is an addict and wasting away. This doesn’t stop her running her own club night, a fine complication of character that is performed well. However, she is the least drawn of the characters, and while she doesn’t fall into stereotype, I think a little more time with Cath would have developed her further.
Best of all is the excellent Matthew Hodson as Sexual Health Worker Daniel, a camp, hilarious and moving performance. If the production sounds a little worthy and dark, it’s Daniel who really lightens the tone without sacrificing the seriousness of the subject. He goes to a sex party put of sheer loneliness, and his responses are hilarious and on point, but monologue ends with him trying to help Nameless as the Pride March kicks off outside.
It’s that mixture of pride and shame that Cash handles so well. This is thought provoking production, and is a vivid and valuable starting point for serious discussion and action. It was also a privilege to see it at the historic and vibrant King’s Head Theatre, the perfect venue for plays like this, which must be treasured and preserved.