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Exhibitionists at the King’s Head Theatre | Review

Last night saw me back in Islington at the King’s Head Theatre for Exhibitionists, their first production since moving into their new home.

EXHIBITIONISTS: Left to right Ashley D Gayle (Conor) and Robert Rees (Robbie). Photographer, Geraint Lewis.
EXHIBITIONISTS Kings Head Theatre. CREDIT Geraint Lewis.

At a VIP preview for a new art show in San Francisco, two couples are about to have their lives altered. But, as they wander through the installations, neither Conor (Ashley D Gayle) and his husband Mal (Jake Mitchell-Jones) nor Robbie (Robert Rees) and his partner Rayyan (Rolando Montecalvo) have any idea what is about to happen. Both couples seem so happy talking and laughing together, though recently out of the closet Rayyan does appear to be having trouble changing from his, as Robbie puts it, heteronormative ways and fully embracing his new gay life. And Mal is still hung up in some ways about Conor’s ex-husband. But it doesn’t matter for both Conor and Robbie are happy with their lives and their respective other halves until the ex-partners (oh yes) run into one another and the sparks fly. As the situation and tension increases how can the four men find a way out? Maybe the answer lies in a Scandi Motel and its very accommodating Manager Sebastian (Øystein Lode).

Exhibitionists, co-written by Olivier nominee Shaun McKenna and Andrew Van Sickle is an interesting story of the interaction between five people who have wildly differing opinions on life, love, and opportunity. Each of the characters is very much a type and at first glance, it’s difficult to see why they are combined as they are. And yet it does make sense. For me, Conor, and Mal work because Mal has a youthful vitality about him that the slightly elder Conor responds to, and for Mal, he has the comfort and protection of an older man – did someone say daddy issues? – for those times when the world just becomes overwhelming. Robbie and Rayyan work because Robbie liked the idea of completing Rayyan’s ‘gay education’ and for Rayyan, Robbie is the epitome of what he would love to be in his new world. Sebastian, who appears in the second half of the play, is pretty much a stand-alone who represents everything that is open and honest in a way that the others could never be. All told, five well-written characters. In fact, I found myself really identifying with Rayyan. Coming out later in life as I did after years of ‘being’ heterosexual, I experienced much of the doubt and insecurity that hits Rayyan as he adjusts to his new life. As I was told once, just because you open the baggage, it doesn’t mean you aren’t still dragging it behind you. My only minor problem with the overall was the ending which I felt was a little obvious and had already worked out in my head in advance.

The five actors all slotted into their respective roles extremely well, playing them perfectly. The movements and voices of each actor feel right for their characters. Mitchell-Jones in particular was wonderful as the twink turning to twunk with all the insecurities and extremes of emotion that entails. I also loved Lode’s portrayal of Sebastian. Sitting in the group with an almost bemused expression that showed Sebastian was just wondering when everyone was making things so complicated when they would get over everything and just get on with the business of having fun.

Gregor Donnelly’s very white set is deceptively simple to look at but with Clancy Flynn’s lighting and Matt Powell’s use of video, is really effective, giving plenty of places for the actors to come on and go off – at one point is was almost like one of the old Whitehall farces with the character movements thanks to the excellent direction of Bronagh Lagan who makes great use of all the space there is available to bring the story to life over its roughly ninety-minute run.

Overall. I really enjoyed Exhibitionists as a play. It is a nice study of people and attitudes that asks questions about the fundamentals of relationships. Do gay people have to be different to straight people? Can open relationships work? What’s wrong with wanting to settle down with one person? The play doesn’t try to provide all the answers but gives the audience time to either sit back and contemplate or alternatively just enjoy a well-produced, well-written, and well-acted comedy that is a great start to the year and an excellent first play in the new King’s Head Theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A dazzling new comedy about love, sex, happiness and freedom set in the San Francisco art world. When ex-partners collide at an exhibition, sparks fly and their new boyfriends are caught in the blast, igniting a series of comic crises involving a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway that leads them to a mysterious hotelier and new beginnings.

Witty characters, outrageous behaviour and a big beating heart make Exhibitionists the perfect post-New Year pick-me-up.

Conor | Ashley D Gayle
Sebastian | Øystein Lode
Mal | Jake Mitchell-Jones
Rayyan | Rolando Montecalvo
Robbie | Robert Rees

Writers | Shaun McKenna & Andrew Van Sickle
Director | Bronagh Lagan
Set & Costume Design | Gregor Donnelly
Sound Design | Max Pappenheim
Lighting Design | Clancy Flynn
Video | Matt Powell
Casting | Jane Deitch
Producer | Elphin Productions & James Seabright

5th Jan – 10th Feb 2024

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