Have you ever heard of Schnitzler’s 1897 play ‘La Ronde’? Nope, me neither but, if you would like to see an updated version of this play then get yourself along to the King’s Head Theatre in islington where they are presenting Joe DiPietro’s acclaimed “F*cking Men”
Over the course of ninety minutes, ten men will come into each other’s and the audience’s lives and we get a glimpse of their relationships, hopes and dreams in their interlocking scenes as their sexual encounters with each other form the backdrop to their tale. Without giving too much of the plot away – as this is a play that should be seen without any spoilers – every single character will be familiar in some respects to most of the audience. There is the annoyingly over-the-top camp writer (Darren Bransford), the always horny student (Euan Brockie) a married couple (Richard De Lisle and Jonathan McGarrity), the ‘straight’ soldier (Harper James), graduate student (Ruben Jones), a closeted actor (Johnathan Neal), journalist (Richard Stemp) a porn star (Haydn Whiteside) and an escort (Chris Willis).
Each character appears in two consecutive two hander scenes so, for example characters 1 and 2 have a scene together, then characters 2 and 3 followed by 3 and 4 etc. Each scene revolves around sex but is so much more than that. In each, we get to see something of the characters themselves as they go on a journey, sometimes of discovery, sometimes of confirmation or self-affirmation. There is nudity, some sex and bad language and, to be honest “F*cking Men” is not for the feint-hearted but the play is excellent in its portrayal of the men and their lives. All around the theatre, you could see people nodding in recognition as a particular scene brought a memory back to life or struck a particular chord. There was one point where ‘the student’ talked about being with an old man of fifty and both me and the chap in the row behind told our respective companion that ‘fifty isn’t that old’.
Director Geoffrey Hyland has set this production of ‘“F*cking Men” in the round with the audience on three sides of the stage area which is really well utilised by Designer Jamie Simmons who keeps the set simple but very effective as the actors move the pieces around to being a sense of place to the various scenes. There really was nothing I disliked about this production. The non-acting elements, set, lighting by Nic Farman and music between scenes all contributed to making the show very enjoyable. But it was the script and acting that really delivered a superb theatrical experience. It must be very difficult for an actor to strip naked and make out with another equally nude actor surrounded by an audience but there was no hint of self-consciousness in any of the performances and each character was extremely believable as a person. My personal favourite was the Soldier – possibly because some elements of his story resonated with events in my own life and Harper James played the part brilliantly.
I first saw “F*cking Men” in 2008 at the Finborough and loved it then. I have to say time has been good to the play. The stories are still relevant and honest in their portrayal of sexual relations between gay men who are looking for some uncomplicated fun. Although each scene gives a glimpse into the lives of the protagonists, for me, there was enough interest generated to want to know how their lives turned out. In particular, I left the theatre really hoping that both the soldier and the porn star (a wonderful portrayal by Haydn Whiteside of a boy that wants to be seen as more than he appears) have happy endings to their respective stories. Somehow I think that only one of them will.
So to summarise, “F*cking Men” is an awesome slice of gay life. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking your maiden aunt to see it but it is an amazing piece of theatre that grabs the audience’s attention and never lets it go until the final bows are taken.
Review by Terry Eastham
The play is a moving portrayal of hunger and desire as it follows the erotic encounters of 10 men in their interconnected search for sexual satisfaction. Each scene in the play is a frank, candid and sometimes brutally honest depiction of the lustful transaction between two men. It is a loose adaptation of the 19th century play La Ronde in which pairings of characters are featured in scenes preceding and succeeding sexual encounters. It’s a structure that lends itself to strong characterizations and oodles of dramatic irony, and will be directed by Geoffrey Hyland.
The Escort Chris Wills
The Soldier Harper James
The Graduate Student Ruben Jones
The Student Euan Brockie
The Married Guy Jonathan McGarrity
The Other Married Guy Richard De Lisle
The Porn Star Haydn Whiteside
The Playwright Darren Bransford
The Actor Johnathon Neal
The Journalist Richard Stemp
5th August to 30th August, 7pm (3pm matinees weekends)
Saturday 8th August 2015