Paul T Davies reviews GHBoy now playing at Charing Cross Theatre.
Charing Cross Theatre.
7 December 2020
Joining a lengthening line of plays that explore the chemsex scene among gay men in London. GHBoy has faced many challenges to get to its opening night. In addition to lockdowns and restrictions, cast member Buffy Davis suffered a fall on Sunday and has had to pull out. Nicola Sloane has stepped in at literally a few hours’ notice and was reading from the script at the press night. Therefore, she will not be critiqued in this review but sending her best wishes for a successful run. It must have been unsettling for the company and may go some way to explaining the underpowered first night.
Robert, grieving after the death of his father, gets embroiled in the drug scene and struggles to get out of the cycle of addiction, even when men are dying from overdoses of the drug GHB, and it is rumoured that a man is encouraging young men to overdose. At 35, he feels he should mature into a better man, and his life is thrown when his 20-year-old boyfriend, Sergio, unexpectedly proposes. As Robert, Jimmy Essex conveys well the twitchiness of addiction, the struggle to be better, and Marc Bosch has an effective energy as naïve Sergio. However, whilst playwright Paul Harvard is to be praised for not giving in to the topless/nude empty titillation of some previous Chemsex plays and concentrating instead on one man’s struggle, I found many of the scenes unconvincing, especially the central relationship between Robert and Sergio. Robert is so vile and such a liar at that point, it’s clear the relationship won’t survive; therefore, the stakes are not high. Unfortunately, many of the characters are two dimensional, leading to some poor acting, and characters saunter on to the stage when they need to enter with more energy and conviction.
There is also a sting of ageism in the text, at 35 Robert is referred to as old, and he feels past it. His self-homophobia and loathing are interesting but tricky to see where it comes from. He claims to not see many positive images of gay men his age, (he is also HIV positive, which may explain some of his attitudes), but at 35 he is slap bang in the middle of equal age of consent, civil partnership and marriage, and his parents were both supportive when he came out. The strongest relationship he has is with his art therapist, and this could perhaps be developed more, and the text feels a couple of drafts short from being a complete play. Although the production will pick up pace as the cast settle down, it feels cautious when it could be riskier.