There’s a great Pet Shop Boys song (on the “Fundamental” album) called the “Sodom and Gomorrah Show”. It’s a commentary on the kind of scenario depicted in “Five Guys Chillin’” albeit with tongue firmly in cheek and put much more pithily than this show, which it preempts. Five guys cordially invite us in to “J’s” house where we are so forcefully indoctrinated into the world of Sex and Drugs and STDs that the sub-title might easily be the “Sodom and Gonorrhoea Show”.
There’s no plot, minimal characterisation, an absence of dialogue and frankly, for the audience, there ain’t much chillin’ because this is Verbatim Theatre: director and “writer” Peter Darney compiled 50 hours of interviews with guys found on social media and distilled them into a 70 minute show through the mouths of five actors without changing anything – thus verbatim. Its a lazy way to put a play together and although much of the content is compelling, direct, unforgiving and non-negotiable there’s a large space where the nuance and subtlety that is evident in the best drama should be.
This is a nipple-and-buttock-fest, a kind of Close Encounters of the Dildo Kind, undoubtedly lapped up by most of the 98% male audience who sat in rapt attention throughout – apart, that is, from a regular trickle of walk-outs whose attention span or repulsion-ceiling had been tested to destruction by the grime, the dirt the unadulterated filth of the gay-scene sleaze-porn on offer here.
Chemsex is the watchword and with the recent high-profile intervention in the House of Commons of a former Minister of the Crown, Crispin Blunt, admitting to, nay, extolling the virtue of, poppers as a sex-aid, the show is lent a perspective that underlines the fact that all this stuff is real, takes place throughout our society and is, apparently, a genuine lifestyle-choice of many gay men. Or so we are led to believe.
The most horrifying aspect is the repeated claim that HIV is no longer a “danger”, as ominously intoned by John Hurt in the infamous eighties ad, no longer a fear for many in the gay community and rather than “gay plague” the “status” is actually worn as a badge of honour and actively sought out by potential sexual partners.
This is Darney’s message, underlined in the programme by the Kings Head artistic Director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who states: “it is no longer an alleged media scare-story, but a public health priority”. So the show itself is a warning. One can’t help thinking, though, that, perversely, the graphically explicit content may well have the opposite effect on young (16+ the theatre restriction states) impressionable, excitement-seeking scenesters out looking for a good time and an antidote to self-created boredom.
This particular five-strong Grindr collective can hump for England. And Wales. And Pakistan.There’s not a lot of humour here and such that there is comes across as mainly snigger-value though Elliot Hadley as “R” does his best to lighten the mood and is the most personable of these dreary, sex-obsessed characters. Racism, apparently rife on Grindr, is touched on through the Pakistani character, “PJ”, who is married, has a son, has another baby on the way and whose wife likes to join in with his male-on-male exploits. He’s wracked with guilt for being at this poke-who-you-want-athon and when he succumbs to too much GHB or coke or K or whatever (who cares?) and falls into a near-catatonic screaming fit held down by his oh-so-loving once-off house-mates he sleeps for the rest of the show, a welcome respite from his interminable whining. Cael King makes a convincing fist of the role. If you’ll excuse the expression.
Host “J” (Gareth Kennerley) is volubly Welsh and holds court with all his shaganory tales whilst Haydn Whiteside as “M” at least gives us an inkling of sensitivity which is sadly lacking in the rest of the characters. The fifth guy, “B” (Michael Matovski), partner of “R” though they live in a threesome – yeah, the third kind is not present (small mercies) – treats us to his unfettered bare buttocks for the duration: the show is kind of in-the-round with most sitting at floor level – some on stage – thus I was grateful to be at the back so his in-yer-face untrammelled arse-cheeks were a close-up delight I did not have to undergo.
The show is nicely lit by Sherry Coenen, especially in the brief slo-mo cuddle- huddles, and the sound provided by Jo Walker gives us a constant backdrop of throwback club music à la Darren Styles: do they seriously still chill to that stuff in 2016?
The overriding feeling one is left with is that the show is like a mammoth relationship counselling session with chemical additives. The guys are all looking for something that they are never going to find and their desperation – remembering that these are real, if exaggerated, stories – makes this a very sad indictment of what is apparently a burgeoning culture.
Review by Peter Yates
After its highly acclaimed sell-out 2015 run, 5 Guys Chillin’ returns to the Kings Head Theatre for its third month.
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.
5th – 27th February 2016
Kings Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN