Virtually all plays are about relationships in one form or another. Whether it is family, friends, loved ones, work colleagues, the heart of most writing is about how much one or more people is willing to adapt themselves to make a relationship work. This is really true in Jake Brunger’s new show Four Play which is getting its world premiere at Battersea’s Theatre503.
Rafe (Cai Brigden) and Pete (Michael Gilbert) got together in their first year in university. Seven (and a half) years later, they have everything – good jobs, a nice apartment and weekly shopping trips to Sainsbury’s. But they also have a problem, well more of a conundrum really. Neither have them have been with – in the biblical sense – anyone else and they are wondering if they should sort of have a go with someone else as a purely one-off experience. To that end, they have very logically worked out who that person should be. So, over a glass or two of wine, Rafe puts the idea to their mutual friend Michael (Peter Hannah) and asks if he fancies taking on the job. Michael is initially reluctant, pointing out that he too has a boyfriend – Andrew (Michael James), but this is not a hurdle for Rafe and Pete as they see Andrew as a further safeguard that the ‘get togethers’ would definitely only be a one-off. The question now is, what will Michael do and whatever decision he takes, what will be the effect on these four friends?
Okay cards on the table, Four Play is one of the best pieces of new writing that I have seen for a long time. I have no idea if Jake Brunger is gay or not but he really knows gay men. He has managed to create four very different people who, without straying into the world of stereotypes, are completely recognisable and believable to anyone watching the show. There are some truly fantastic scenes in the play that starts with a truly wonderful monologue from Rafe that sets the whole speed and tone from the get go. My favourite scene has to be the dinner party between the four of them which is just superb in building the tension – whilst being quite comical – until it reaches a crescendo that completely takes the audience by surprise. Even the ending to the play didn’t go anywhere near the two or three scenarios I had in my head. I really loved the way the atmosphere – in the audience as well as on the stage – changed as the play progressed and ultimately, I just can’t praise the quality of the writing any more. One word of advice, buy a copy of the play text at the theatre as it’s well worth it to help you relive the wonderful use of words by the author.
Great writing is one thing but to really make the show work it requires superb acting and our four actors really delivered that in spades. To put it simply, all four of them worked from the moment Cai delivered Rafe’s nervous opening through to the final moment and the smile on Peter Hannah’s face as Andrew sat on the stage. This was a first class cast who together really brought the writing to life and held their audience spellbound from the moment the lights went down. Of course, it is not possible to praise the actors without mentioning the Director and Jonathan O’Boyle has really put together a superb production that makes fantastic use of Designer Cecilia Carey’s wonderful minimalist set that really enhances the lives of our four protagonists.
Given the writing above, I think it’s fairly obvious that I really liked Four Play. My companion and I discussed every aspect of the play on our way home – favourite character, scene, could we do what Rafe planned, etc – and it was interesting to see how different aspects appealed to each of us and our interpretation of the various scenes that we had lived through. WE both agreed on the quality of the writing and the depth of the story itself, which I think took us both by surprise in some ways. Now, I can hear some of you thinking “oh it’s a gay play, why would I want to see that?” and to you I would say, this is a play about relationships between romantic partners. Yes, in this case the story is about four gay men but the reality is that heterosexual couples face some or all of the conundrums that our four encounter in their relationships so please don’t think of this as a gay play, just think of it as a superbly written, directed and acted piece about the difficulties of love and relationships in the modern world.
For me, I can’t praise Four Play enough. I was hooked from the start, cared about all four characters right the way through and wished all of them the best for the future as the lights went down. Simply put, this was theatre at its best.
Review by Terry Eastham
By Jake Brunger
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Rafe and Pete have hit a rut. After seven and a half blissfully happy years, their lack of sexual experience is driving them apart.
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When they proposition mutual friend Michael to help out with their problems – knowing full well Michael has his own partner Andrew – what seems like a simple solution quickly spirals out of control.
Commissioned by Old Vic New Voices and the TS Eliot estate and first performed in a reading starring Richard Madden and Jeremy Irvine, Four Play is a new comic play about sex and commitment in the 21st century.
Rafe: Cai Brigden
Pete: Michael Gilbert
Michael: Peter Hannah
Andrew: Michael James
Writer: Jake Brunger
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Designer: Cecilia Carey
Sound and Music Designer: Max Perryment
Lighting Designer: Jack Weir
Stage Manager: Rike Berg
Production Manager: James Ashby
Assistant Director: Hannah Hauer-King
Costume Assistant: Isobel Pellow
Producers: Ramin Sabi, Jessica Campbell & Jack Sain
Associate Producer: Ceri Lothian
16 Feb – 12 March, 2016 7.45pm (Sundays 5pm)