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F**king Men at Waterloo East Theatre

Sometimes things work my way and I get invited to one of my favourite plays at one of my favourite venues. So, you can imagine how happy I was to receive the invite to review Joe DiPietro’s one-act play F**king Men which has opened for a season at the Waterloo East Theatre.

F**KING MEN. Alex Britt and Charlie Condou. Photo Darren Bell.
F**KING MEN. Alex Britt and Charlie Condou. Photo Darren Bell.

F**king Men is a modern retelling of Schnitzler’s infamous classic La Ronde and is a comedy drama that follows the encounters of ten very different men – a married couple, a teacher, a soldier, an escort, a porn star, a playwright, a student, a journalist and an actor – with one half of the coupling appearing in the next scene until the circle is completed with all ten characters having two scenes reflecting moments in their lives that span a small period of time, but have a significant effect on the lives of the men involved.

I have seen this play four times before and it’s only now that the double meaning of the title has struck me. The, let’s be coy, ‘F’ word could actually be a verb or an adjective which changes the context and ultimate meaning of the title completely. Not necessarily relevant to a review but a fascinating piece of grammar for a nerd like me.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the theatre is Cara Evens’ set which splits the stage using, initially transparent, panels to create the two halves of the stage. When combined with Alex Lewer’s lighting and Charlie Smith’s sound, this works brilliantly as, when required the panels become opaque doubling the number of locations available to perform in without moving bits of scenery around which gives Director Steve Kunis, and Movement & Intimacy Director Lee Crowley, much more scope to move the characters around, and even have one speaking words from a later scene while two others are having relations shall we say on another part of the stage.

This production stars Alex Britt, Charlie Condou, Derek Mitchell, and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as the men and all four of them are tremendous making every character they play a genuine believable human being with emotions, fears, hopes and dreams, with Charlie Condou and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge excellent in their roles. My favourite performance of the night was Derek Mitchell’s playwright who is the character I most dislike in the entire show. From his overall look (great costume design) to his voice, mannerisms and air of neediness, everything about him is irritating and Mitchell brought out every facet in excruciating detail, so I loved the performance but hated the character even more.

Alex Britt plays the largest number of roles, and my favourite was Ryan, the porn star. Actually before moving on to that, let me just mention that Joe DiPietro has, as he has done previously completely revised the script for F**king Men for this production and brought it right up to date with references to PrEP, “Undetectable = untransmittable” and PorhHub (whatever that is) in the narrative.

Back to Ryan, a porn star with an ‘Only Fans’ site. I loved his vulnerability and need to be with someone. There are times when you just want someone to cuddle up with in the night and Britt really brings the loneliness of his life, even going home with the worst person in a club because they spoke to him. An amazing performance and so different from the assured cocky arrogance of the twenty-year-old student – also played by Britt – playing on older guys’ insecurities about their age and looks to get them to do what he wants. A really impressive and assured performance from the young actor.

F**king Men is often seen as just a gay play with nudity and physical interactions, but it is so much more than that. Just as in Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, the show scrutinises the sexual morality and class ideology of its participants and asks a lot of awkward and possibly unanswerable questions. For example, is monogamy a good thing in a relationship? If you spice things up by having an open relationship, is that better? And what happens if one person is a less-than-willing participant? In this day and age, why aren’t people open about their HIV status with new sexual partners? Why are so many people in the public eye – actors, sportsmen, politicians, etc – still so scared of admitting who they are? Is the gay community obsessed with app-arranged hook-ups and what about people genuinely looking for a relationship? There are many more, and I can’t promise the play will answer them, but at least it will get you to think whilst providing entertainment.

Overall, you’ve probably guessed I enjoyed F**king Men (and both ways of thinking about the title do work) but I have to say in reality, this is the best version I’ve seen so far. The production works on every level with an amazingly talented cast supported by superb creatives, producing a first-class show that is not just aimed at gay men but has something to say to everyone. Even if we can’t print or say the real title, it’s an awesome show.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

This dramatic comedy follows ten men through a series of erotic encounters that change their lives in small but significant ways. In a raw and updated new version for 2023, Tony-winning writer Joe DiPietro takes a sharp and insightful look at the experiences of modern gay men as they navigate their conflicting desires for the comfort of monogamous love and the thrill of sexual freedom.

A modern retelling of Schnitzler’s infamous classic La Ronde, F★★cking Men is a fascinating, funny and provocative story of sex, love and connection.

F**king Men
Waterloo East Theatre, London
20 Apr 2023 – 18 Jun 2023
90 minutes (no interval)

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