“And here’s your condom.” Words that I have never before heard from front of house immediately after being given a programme. There is a serious point to 5 Guys Chillin’, though, and not just the usual “here’s how to practice safe sex” mantra. With a wide variety of stories about the experiences of gay men and their various sexual encounters, the narrative lunges from the sublime to the ridiculous, and back again, several times over.
Before the show gets underway, two of the characters (none of the characters are properly named) are sat on a couch with a laptop. It’s entirely possible that they could be viewing chart music videos on YouTube but already the savvy audience suspects it is something rather more explicit. Given the silent prologue, the show has an unusually long pre-amble, laboriously explaining the definition of sex party, without ever calling an orgy an orgy.
Once that is out of the way, however, things get interesting, if occasionally downright disgusting. One particular confession had much of the audience groaning in horror, and though at first it feels unkind to conclude that those who end up HIV positive should simply have taken greater care of themselves, as the stories get more sordid, it is harder to sustain much sympathy for those who indulge in such extreme and careless behaviour.
Some of the other stories, though, are indicative of people with a sex addiction. Their words (apparently verbatim from miscellaneous interviews with people who enjoy participating in orgies) are presented in such a way that elicits laughter from the audience, although I suspect that the original sources may actually have been speaking quite seriously, and, as I say, may benefit from counselling or therapy of some kind. I must confess it does not sit easy with me that their words are being used in the name of entertainment.
The inevitably naturalistic script is so conversational it meanders too much from time to time. There is a considerable amount of detail, for example, with regards to how to take drugs – the method of intake, the amounts, the regularity, and so on. I felt it unnecessary, and ironically could be giving people ideas. And why must orgies involve drugs in the first place? That question remained unresolved.
It was predictably difficult for PJ (Shri Patel), with his cultural and traditional family ties, to live nearly as freely as a homosexual man than his peers do. It is R (Elliot Hadley), though, that is most convincing as a confident man, keenly aware of the risks he is taking with his life, but at the same time unable or unwilling (or both) to stop a drug-taking habit and having multiple relations.
The play grew on me as it progressed, and there’s a harrowing finale story leaving us in no doubt about the potential consequences of taking substances. Hard-hitting and bold, the lively moments of combined dancing and foreplay that occasionally popped up didn’t provide as much breathing space as I would have liked: the show could have done with an interval. But then shows like this are deliberately uncomfortable.
There are some interesting observations about relationships, pornography and life in general, but ultimately it’s a world I am unable to relate to. If what this play asserts about orgies holds true then I am not in the slightest bit interested in participating in one any time soon. So much the better if that is the sort of response the play is trying to achieve.
Review by Chris Omaweng
5 Guys Chillin’
A graphic, gripping, funny and frank verbatim drama exposing the gay Chill-Out scene. “Wanna pair of shorts? Shot of G? Line of Meth?” From surgeons to students, couples to kink; guys that love it and lost guys longing to be loved. An original look into a drug-fuelled, hedonistic, highly secret world of Chem-Sex, Grindr and instant gratification.
Taken from over 50 hours of interviews from guys found through Grindr and other social media, this is an important look at the relatively new scene that social media apps have been fundamental in creating. 5 Guys Chillin’ looks at changing attitudes to sex, relationships, dating, HIV and to our perception of what sexual relations can and should be. 5 Guys Chillin’ come direct from its sell-out run at this years Brighton Fringe:
5 Guys Chillin’
1st – 24th October 2015
The King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN