Paul T Davies reviews Vicky Moran’s verbatim play No Sweat at the Lakeside Theatre at the University of Essex.
Lakeside Theatre, University of Essex.
4 March 2020
The gay sauna has always been a venue for gay, bi and curious men to come together, in what should be a safe space, to enjoy intimacy, sex and companionship. What is little known about them, and an aspect I certainly wasn’t aware of, is that it provides refuge, no matter how temporary, for homeless LGBTQ men. Vicky Moran’s excellent play, created from verbatim and shared experiences, casts a light on this world and is an alarm call for a growing crisis.
Three men meet throughout regular visits to Flex, a gay sauna, and Alex Berry’s precise, yet free-flowing, set lands you right into the towel laden world. Tristan, the excellent Denholm Spurr, is well-spoken, a graduate, but thrown out of his parents home and having literally nowhere else to go. He meets Alf, (James Haymer), exiled from the Welsh Valleys by intolerance, an escort, drug user, embittered. It’s a tricky part, as Alf is not easy to like, but Haymer invests him with enough complexity that you understand totally the circumstances that led him to this. Most powerful of all is the story of Charlie, an asylum seeker from Pakistan, working cash in hand at the sauna to make ends meet, facing execution if returned to his home country. It is a beautifully nuanced performance from Manish Gandhi, who conveys a heartbreaking spirit of stoicism in the face of horrific circumstances.
Moran’s script uses voice-over to convey additional experiences, and it really shines when the characters speak directly to the audience and act out scenes of interviews, from Home Office officials or support workers for example. The trio works together well to create a tapestry of homelessness, and it is grim viewing, another play that raises the question of who cares within our failing care system, although a bond does begin to grow between the men. Above all, it shows how the worst kind of exile is exile from our own families, who should supply the support network and care that every human needs.
Check out further productions at the excellent Lakeside Theatre