Joe DiPietro’s F*cking Men has been around since 2009 and is usually staged with 10 actors playing the various characters. The latest production at the King’s Head Theatre however has been stripped back to using only three actors. Having seen the original twice now, the big question is can a play that deals with the most basic human needs and emotions really work when stripped back so much? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes.
F*cking Men is based on La Ronde a play written by Arthur Schnitzler in 1897 and first printed in 1900. Its dramatic structure consists of ten interlocking scenes between pairs of lovers. Each of its ten characters appears in two consecutive scenes. Joe DiPietro’s version is set in the world of gay men and examines the relationships between them as a part of their sexual encounters with each other. There is a closeted soldier, an escort, a married couple, a porn star, a teacher, an out playwright, an actor and a journalist. They meet in various places and their encounters are everything from a quickie in a broom cupboard to an overnight stay in a four star hotel. The men each have a story to tell and in many cases are ultimately searching for something more than to ‘simply connect’.
OK, so let’s start by dispelling some rumours F*cking Men is not some soft porn form of titillation for gay men to get overexcited about. It is a well-written series of playlets that will strike a chord with anyone that watches. Yes, there is nudity but it is handled naturally and respectfully. I loved the device by Director Mark Barford of having the third member of the cast out in the audience speaking lines from the next scene taking the audience’s eye away from the, for want of a better word, action occurring between the the other two in the blackness of the stage.
Turning to the actors – the play has three very talented men in the shape of Richard De Lisle, Harper James and Haydn Whiteside playing the ten characters. My big concern with the reduced cast was that it would be difficult to distinguish between the characters but I’m happy to say that even with the minimal costume changes, it was easy to know who was who. A lot of this is down to the quality of the writing which very quickly establishes each person in their own right. But it is also the actors who bring each character to life superbly. In fact I found that in some ways, not having loads of different actors it felt easier to concentrate on the words and the action rather and take in more of the stories themselves. My companion, who hadn’t seen the play before, loved it and had no problem with the small cast.
It was interesting discussing the play with him after the curtain call. We both agreed that we knew people very similar to the various characters we had seen, in fact could identify on some level with a couple of them. We actually disagreed about our favourite characters though. I really like the soldier but my companion’s favourite was the journalist – interestingly the one I disliked the most. This led to quite a heated discussion between the two of us. I think this really demonstrates the power of F*cking Men as a piece of writing. The characters and situations they involve themselves in are very real and whilst some – such as the two guys in the sauna – are probably only relevant to gay men, the play is not just aimed at them and is certainly suitable for any audience.
I have to say that, even though this was the third time I’ve seen the play, I was still invested enough in each of them that I would love a follow-up piece, set five years in the future, where we get the opportunity to see what has happened to everyone. Did the ten boys and men have happy endings, with the love and companionship that they wanted?
So, ultimately, even with a pared down cast, F*cking Men is still an amazingly well-written piece of theatre with a superb cast that draws the audience into the world of these men and makes you care about and identify with them. By the end, as the young escort left the stage full of life and the optimistic joys of youth, I had a tear in my eye and was very happy that this awesome play had come into my life once more.
Review by Terry Eastham
Due to popular demand, F*cking Men is back in this new production by Mark Barford.
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.
La Ronde is no stranger to controversy, having been originally banned until 30 years after being written for its depiction of sexuality, as well as to adaptation and interpretation, with modern versions including David Hare’s The Blue Room and Michael John LaChiusa’s musical Hello Again.
5th Dec – 9th Jan
at Kings Head Theatre