Some of you may have heard of an app called Grindr. It is a social app for gay men that enables them to chat and arrange to meet up. Okay, it may be a bit more than that but once again I must remember my mother reads these things. Anyway, if I was to download it and switch it on now, two things would become apparent very quickly. The first is that a lot of people take really bad photographs which seem to cut off their heads and the second is that the world is divided into those that say ‘chems OK’ and those that say ‘No Chems’. Being firmly on the ‘No Chems’ side, it is interesting to delve, if only briefly, on the other. Such an opportunity is available as Patrick Cash’s play The Chemsex Monologues makes a welcome return to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
As the title suggests, The Chemsex Monologues are a series of monologues dealing with the subject of chemsex. They basically follow the story of Nameless (Denholm Spurr) one of those beautiful young gay men seen cruising Compton Street. He is introduced to us by the narrator (Kane Surry) who runs into him at a Vauxhall club. On the surface, Nameless is to paraphrase the saying, young, dumb and full of fun, but underneath, he is a young lad who has probably sailed through life without any real hassles and has found his happiness in London tasting everything that the gay scene has to offer. But there is something missing from his life. He seems to yearn for a real relationship with another person but believes that can only happen with the help of drink, drugs and sex. So, after running into his favourite porn star, the two of them head off to a ‘chillout’ session at Old Mother Meph’s. Here, he sees Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte) who is there with her GBF Steve. At another party, Nameless runs into Sexual Health Worker Daniel (Matthew Hodson). As we follow Nameless on his hedonistic journey around London we encounter happiness, joy, despair, betrayal, friendship and tragedy.
This is the second time I have seen The Chemsex Monologues and I have to say it really stands up to a second viewing. In fact, my entire interpretation of the story has changed completely on a second viewing, as have my thoughts about the various characters. Just as in real life, how the audience interacts with the characters will depend on a lot of factors that are outside of the control of the writer and Director Luke Davies. However, the important thing I think is that no matter who you are, you will get something out of the superb writing of Patrick Cash and the characters he has created. There is a real sense of realism about each of them that makes them more than just actors telling a story. The five monologues are interweaved together, with an overarching story in the life of Nameless, but are also individual to the speaker enabling the audience to get to know and identify with each of the characters in their own right. The writing manages to tread the fine line between being judgemental and glamourising chemsex superbly.
This is writing of the highest calibre and the production is delivered by a highly talented cast who are well up to the task. My personal favourite, both in performance and character is Matthew Hodson’s Daniel. The character resonates with me on a personal level as my reaction to the situations Daniel finds himself in would be pretty similar. Matthew himself didn’t actually look as if he is acting at any point and I could imagine that had I met him in the bar afterwards, he would have been exactly the same as he was on stage. Least liked character? I’m afraid it was Cath. Well, not so much least liked as one I felt most sorry for. Cath is a deluded individual who has not managed to move on in her life and doesn’t really understand that her friend Steve is not the same man he had been. Possibly the saddest and most frustrating scene in the story is the final part of Cath’s monologue – I can’t say why as we want to avoid spoilers – but when you see it you will understand.
The direction is light touch, and appropriate for each character, so Nameless moves a lot. He’s up and down and wanders over the stage as he tells his monologue. The Narrator is less animated in his time, sitting on the chair and talking directly the audience. I’m also going to mention the sound design by Josh Spear which works extremely well to add to the atmosphere of the scene. So when Nameless and the Narrator are outside the Vauxhall club, the music can be heard subtly in the background reminding you of the sweaty mass of hedonists just feet away from the two men.
Summing up then I found The Chemsex Monologues as superb a production the second time around as when I saw it the first time. Whether you have played around with chems or not, this play works on every level with its very human story of people caught up in a world that while alien to many at first will be fully comprehensible when the show finishes. Overall, The Chemsex Monologues is an awesome production that definitely deserves to be seen at least once.
Review by Terry Eastham
A man meets a mysterious stranger on a night out in Vauxhall; a sexy poster-boy gets taken to a chill-out by a porn star; a fag-hag named Cath is pushed to her limits at the party of the century; a sexual health worker struggles with the burden of
The Chemsex Monologues are the untold stories of the men and women adrift in London’s chill-out, offering a frank, funny and touching insight into one of the twenty-first centuries most controversial gay subcultures. Originally staged during the King’s Head’s 2016 Queer Season, the show was selected for a full length, three-week run to mark the fiftieth year since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. It commences the theatre’s year-long celebration of this historic milestone.
The Chemsex Monologues
21 March – 9 April I King’s Head Theatre
Press night: Thursday 23 March, 7pm
Written by Patrick Cash I Directed by Luke Davies