4 STARS 17TH JANUARY 2020
Jake Brunger’s play is rather good with the four cast members – Keeran Blessie as Pete, Ashley Byam as Rafe, Marc McKinnon as Andrew and Declan Spaine as Michael – giving robust performances and all are clearly relishing their roles. The feel good factor of the play is set at a very high level and as the story unfolds each character has their own pivotal part to play. Brunger has also woven into the script the very clever use of the monologue, especially the one on monogamy.
Four Play looks at the power of physical attraction and when an arranged liaison is allowed to be set up – in this case by the Rafe and Pete characters – and as long as the pre-set rules are adhered to, nothing should go wrong.
Here Brunger constructs a well written conundrum, is there safety in numbers when creating a scenario? Is it then allowed that you can ask the person you are going to have sex with to try ‘stuff’ you would not do with your partner.
Handcuffs, dripping hot wax, watersports – and shows that kissing someone still remains a very personal and intimate thing. Brunger also looks at the need to feel special and when a line is crossed the complications become inevitable when then the blame game is played.
A special mention has to be made of Marc McKinnon whose stage presence is fabulous – strong, subtle and at the same time also gentle with a very clear intention on his part to give a beautifully measured performance; superb.
Four Play is a fresh and invigorating look at living your life a certain way and where there are clear comparisons made to our heterosexual contemporaries, this is explored with confidence by Brunger. At the heart of this play is a message that pride comes at a price which makes the play immensely appealing and hugely relatable. Four Play is directed by Matthew Iliffe who clearly knows how to tell a story.
Photos by PBG Studios
5 STARS 11TH JUNE 2019
Under the awesome, controlled and very precise direction of Tom O’Brien and with three intoxicating performances by Jesse Fox as Darius, Sean Hart as Josh and finally Danny Mahoney playing Alex, S. Asher Gelman’s play Afterglow exploded onto the Southwark Playhouse stage last night receiving its UK premiere. After the opening scene of full nudity, simulated penetrative sex and the guys reaching orgasm, the tagline for the play on the poster – The Climax is just the Beginning – could not have been more apt.
The play pulsates with a throbbing energy supported by a hard trance soundtrack that compels the audience to take notice. The three actors are sensational: dynamic, driven by a passion, equally sharing the stage and manoeuvring the set with a masculine force that is compelling to witness.
Gelman’s skill as a writer is superb with themes running through the play of the quest to find the perfect mate, the effects of jealousy in an open relationship, playing by the rules, breaking those rules, the power of adoration and manipulation, knowing your self worth, that keeping a secret can be damaging and finally to be very careful of what you wish for.
Afterglow is an emotional rollercoaster beautifully played out and offers a deep look and an informed dissection of being in an open gay relationship. A perfect three way. Totally captivating; modern theatre at it’s very enthralling best. A must see this season.
Photo by Darren Bell
5 STARS 13th MARCH 2020
What is instantly apparent about the two actors – Robert Neumark-Jones playing Jesse and Asha Reid as Alex – is that their command of the stage is paramount; both delivering performances that are completely spell-binding. Their confinement in a box with open sides projects a feeling of being trapped and is clearly a metaphor for how we live our lives. To show advancement in time the box seems to explode with the metal struts that form the box becoming lit and serving as lightning bolts of pure blinding energy as the backdrop illuminates the passing years.
Writer Stephen Laughton has very clear intentions here and with director Sarah Meadows and designer Georgia de Grey, they have achieved it with a passionate ease. For example, the founding of the modern State of Israel and being Jewish are two separate entities; a fact Laughton rams home. Certain aspects of the Jewish faith are examined in great detail which adds a distinctive mood and message to the play.
Jesse’s character is the Jewish boy who has been attacked and physically and verbally assaulted. This affects him and shapes him as a man. He meets Alex in a club in 2013 and they hit it off and over the next seven years marry, have a child and discover things about each other that make for thought-provoking theatre.
This is also a very interesting look at an attempt to find domestic bliss and although Jesse wants to settle down he does long for his care free days as a single man, offering fab comments such as “I got so drunk my iPhone did not recognise my face”, a pure comedy zinger.
Laughton also gives a ‘nod’ to the controversy about the Labour Party and the media storm around the anti-semitism within in it, describing Jeremy Corbyn as toxic and offering a challenging question: if there is such a thing as a left wing Jew?
This is a delightful play and although at times I found the time changes to be jarring and abrasive, this did add to the verbal banter between the two as issues of loyalty, religious differences, racism, manipulation, keeping secrets and understanding trauma were all added to the mix.
This is also about a marriage that becomes a powder keg destined to explode. One Jewish Boy is a true attention grabber.
Vibrant modern theatre.
Photos by Pamela Raith
5 STARS 11th FEBRUARY 2020
Writer Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have created in Musik a made to measure role for Frances Barber who stars as outrageous Billie Trix, an icon, rock star, screen goddess and drug addict. This new show explores the backstory of Billie Trix from the original London run of Closer to Heaven.
It’s a potent role that showcases Barber’s amazing skills as a performer; a mesmerising female libertine. The hour long one woman show is a fantastic and very funny assault on the senses. She is out to mock and shock; bringing to life a larger than life character. If Harvey has been influenced by the halcyon days of Marianne Faithfull and Amanda Lear that just adds to the significance of the role which Barber executes so beautifully.
This is also an interesting look at modern art, or what can be perceived as art. Billie Trix has met them all: Warhol, Dalì, Pollock, Zappa, Hirst and even a young Donald Trump. This is enhanced name-dropping and with each name came a very funny and naughty anecdote. Tennant and Lowe also take a look at the fauxness of celebrity and via clever musical numbers deconstruct the power of an icon. This linked to Harvey’s swish and swirl of his pen like a satirical sword, makes for seamless dialogue that Barber has a huge control over.
This is high octane, blistering entertainment lampooning the premise that because she has suffered for her art that must make her a good artist. Trix loves her life and is enjoying and savouring every moment with a vibrancy and fullness that is just spectacular.
This is very stylish theatre directed by Josh Seymour and what is achieved is a total sense of contentment as the fade to black happens as Billie Trix leaves the theatre through the audience cackling and cursing in her own inimitable style. Frances Barber gives a tour de force. Superb!
Photos by Marc Brenner
5 STARS 14th FEBRUARY 2020
When I first saw Tom Wright’s play Undetectable back in March last year when it was receiving its world premiere I immediately felt I was watching something special and garnished it with 5 stars and offered rapturous praise to all concerned.
This sentiment still rings true almost a year on. With actors Lewis Brown as Bradley and Freddie Hogan as Lex both reprising their roles and director and designer Rikki Beadle-Blair firmly at the helm, the whole thing is a poignant joy from start to finish.
This is a very powerful play and should be seen by as many as possible regardless of sexual orientation or gender as Wright transverses these elements with a knock out punch that hits right at the heart of the effect of feeling certain emotions.
The synergy between Brown and Hogan has intensified dramatically as both have clearly and firmly sunk their teeth into performing these parts with an intensity that is sensational and extremely sexy.
Wright looks at the apprehension of being intimate which can lead to discomfort, the way his characters deal with anxiety, understanding core values and that trust has to be earned. There is a particularly moving scene about PrEP with Wright giving a suggestion that by using it people need not to be scared – a very timely comment.
This is an astounding two hander that has matured and still maintains a premise that being yourself, and the power that comes with that, is paramount in today’s world. Cutting edge theatre and a well deserved revival. Intense stuff indeed.
Now with an expanded text from the original production it is also very clear that Wright has made the play ahead of the curve in its ideas; the world has caught up and it’s bang on the moment. The play echoes my own opinion that I am becoming increasingly tired with talking about chemsex issues and that gay men are on a path to self destruction. This is not true. Undetectable is a pertinent piece of theatre for 2020.
4 STARS 14TH SEPTEMBER 2019
The producers at Above The Stag recognise talent when they see it and with Now & Then, the latest opus from the excellent writer Ronnie Larsen and music and lyrics by Dennis Manning, this cowboy, country & western inspired gay love story is beautifully staged in the venue’s main room.
The play tells the story of Daniel and Greg over four decades and is superbly cast with six actors sharing the roles of two men over different time periods. With Dylan Wynford and Freddie Woodyatt playing them young and discovering their sexuality, then Taylor Rettke and Rhys Taylor playing them in their 30s dealing with the trials and tribulations of life and finally Richard Costello and Leo Andrew playing them older and wiser.
The music in the play is stunning; acting as one of the best extensions to the spoken dialogue I’ve heard in ages. There is an infectious beat to it and where the same song is repeated during various poignant and extremely touching parts of the story, the emotional response from the audience was gorgeous. The use of a consistent melody added such a warmth and sincerity to the whole piece.
The overlapping of the storylines is told via these actors with exceptional skill and attention to the timing is very well executed – and it is to director Harry Blumenau’s credit that this is achieved. This is a remarkable piece of hand clapping, toe tapping, boot scooping theatre and gets a mighty ‘Yeehaw! Howdy Partner!’ from me. Utterly fabulous and throughly enjoyable and highly recommended.
Photos by PBG Studios
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