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F*cking Men is a masterpiece of theatre – The Vaults

F*cking-men at The VaultsSummer is definitely over. All the leaves are brown and the skies are grey. The clocks have gone back, the nights are dark and the temperature has dropped. However as autumn and winter firmly take hold, there is one ray of sunshine on the horizon. After a completely sold-out visit to Edinburgh, Joe Dipietro’s awesome play F*cking Men is back in London and has firmly taken up residence in the Vaults Theatre, Waterloo.

Loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play ‘La Ronde’, F*cking Men tells the story of ten encounters between pairs of men with each character having two individual encounters so the play flows thus: Escort with soldier, soldier with teacher, teacher with student, student with hook-up, hook-up with husband, husband with porn star, porn star with writer, writer with actor, actor with journalist and finally journalist with escort. It’s difficult to say much more about the plot without giving too much away so I will leave it there as F*cking Men is a play that should be experienced spoiler-free.

When putting together a production like F*cking Men there are two things that have to be perfect. First, the script, which must be able to flow gently and logically between each story so that each is individual but intrinsically connected to the one either side of it. Even the last, which is linked beautifully with the first and makes me well up every time I see it. Joe Dipietro has pulled this off superbly and created ten very individual characters, who are pretty much instantly recognisable but without falling into the pit of horrific stereotypes. Considering that each encounter is less than ten minutes long, establishing each character and telling a cohesive story about them is a piece of writing genius. My companion at this visit, who hadn’t seen the show before, and I spent a long time after the show discussing the various scenes and whilst we agreed on most things – most morally reprehensible character, most irritating and favourite scene – we actually had a long discussion about one particular encounter which spoke to each of us in diametrically opposite ways. By the end, we still didn’t agree, though accepted the logic of each other’s interpretation, and it was fascinating that one well-written scene could produce such different views.

The second essential constituent of the play is the actors and in Richard De Lisle, Harper James, and Haydn Whiteside, F*cking Men has a first class cast delivering an impeccable performance. I have previously seen this play with ten individual actors but I have to say that I have trouble now imagining it performed that way, so well do these three portray their individual characters. Richard De Lisle has a wonderful range of accents and Harper James really does become a different person with each character. In fact, the second time he appeared, I was confused for a moment thinking they had sneaked an extra actor into the mix. Haydn Whiteside manages to bring both naivety and uncomfortable self-awareness to his various characters – this is particularly true of the porn star – that makes them at times both young and wise beyond their years. F*cking Men asks a lot from its actors – there is nudity and simulated sex – and these three really do deliver. There is a definite chemistry between them and an apparent love and respect for the play which comes across from the stage to the audience beautifully.

Jamie Simmons minimalist set – some wooden boxes against a black backdrop – is nicely executed and, along with Jack Weir’s lighting and Mark Barford’s assured direction keep the production flowing smoothly, with scene changes being a part of the story giving both a break and a continuity between each scene. I have seen the play both at the King’s Head in Islington and now at the Vaults, and it really is a play that can work in a whole range of performance spaces.

Quite a few of my friends – both straight and gay – have seen the play and each one of them has been able to identify real people of their acquaintance with the characters in the play. The realism of both the encounters and the characters themselves means that the audience is fully immersed in each story and emotionally committed to the two characters involved. Yes, F*cking Men is a play about gay men and their encounters but it is much deeper than that, with themes such as love, fidelity, aspiration, fear and hope which are relevant to everyone, everywhere.

I think it’s fairly obvious that I really enjoyed F*cking Men. It is ultimately a superbly written, directed and acted series of interlocking stories that got me emotionally invested in each story and provoked some fascinating discussion afterwards. Ultimately, whatever your sexual orientation, F*cking Men is an awesome play which really is a masterpiece of theatre that should be a must see for everyone wanting to escape the winter blues.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

James Seabright presents the King’s Head Theatre production of F*cking Men
by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Mark Barford
Performed by Richard De Lisle, Harper James and Haydn Whiteside

Following multiple smash-hit, sell-out runs in London, the King’s Head production of F*cking Men transfers to The Vaults Theatre in Waterloo. Inspired by classic play La Ronde, Tony Award winning writer Joe DiPietro transplants the interweaving tales of sexual power, discovery and exploration onto today’s gay scene.

A slick dramatic comedy of gay sexual manners, ten characters circle through a series of erotic encounters, exploring whether gay men are increasingly trapped by monogamy, or whether their sexual encounters are fuelled by hunger for elusive, meaningful connections. This fearless and audacious celebration of sexuality will fascinate audiences of every persuasion.

2 November – 4 December 2016


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