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Grindr: The Opera at Union Theatre

There have been many strange titles for operas over the years. For example, Shostakovich’s opera The Nose or how about Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (The Bat), or even Jerry Springer the Opera? All a bit bizarre you might think and unlikely to be topped unlike some of the characters in the new production of Grindr: The Opera. At the Union Theatre.

GRINDR the Opera - Photo Brittain Photography.
GRINDR the Opera – Photo Brittain Photography.

Men are looking for something. It may be love, it may be lust. It could be a relationship or a one-night stand. Whatever it is, they know how to find it. They get on their PCs and log on to websites where like-minded men are to be found. But this is not enough, and as computing power expands, a siren is awakened in the form of Grindr (Christian Lunn) who, along with their acolytes (James Aymon and Grant Jackson) manifests themselves in the physical plane in the form of an app that can be downloaded onto a phone and provide male contact at the press of an icon. Four men – closeted politician Don (Dereck Walker) hopeless romantic Dr Devon (Santino Zapico), cynical seeker of NSA Tom (Billy J Vale) and good time twink Jack (James Lowrie) – have the app and have found themselves sucked into Grindr’s world of promised instant gratification, and for each of them, their lives will never be the same.

Before moving on, let me just explain to the uninitiated what Grindr is. According to my friends at Wikipedia, Grindr is a location-based social networking and online dating application targeted towards members of the gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. It was one of the first geosocial apps for gay men when it launched in March 2009, and has since become the largest and most popular gay mobile app in the world. For many, it is an app that is both malevolent and benevolent. We hate it for its shallowness and often toxic users, but still turn to it for comfort and validation of ourselves. So now you know.

Having not seen the show in its original run, I seriously had no idea what to expect from Grindr the Opera. Since it was originally at Above the Stag, in my head I thought it would be some sort of frothy nothing populated by pretty boys wearing few clothes. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Erik Ransom’s book is more akin to a Greek Tragedy where the gods play with the humans for their fun than a bit of eye candy froth. The Grindr in this case is a siren awakened from their sleep who becomes more powerful as more people use their app. Ransom’s songs are a heady mixture of styles ranging from baroque to contemporary pop and really tell an impressive story. I’ve been listening to the original cast album this morning and my favourite tracks are ‘Wanderlust’ and the wonderfully romantic ‘You Can Leave’ but, to be honest, the show is packed with great songs.

Director/Choreographer William Spencer has put together a first-rate production that makes great use of David Shields’ excellent set, complete with back wall projection, and gives us four very believable mortals and the siren who is watching and controlling them. Having the band, under Musical Director Aaron Clingham, raised and at the back of the stage means every inch of the performance space can be utilised to stage the story.

Now, let’s talk actors. And I’m going to start with Dereck Walker who plays Don. If there is a villain in this piece, then Don is the one. I disliked the character from their first line in ‘Manhunt’ and by ‘Love and Destroy’ which could be seen as a bit of a redemption song for Don, the dislike had turned into total loathing. This was not just because of the story but also the wonderful acting that made Don so real and believable. Bravo to Walker for pulling this off in such style. Everyone was wonderful to be honest, but wow, just wow to Christian Lunn in the role of Grindr. Lunn, helped by their amazing shoes, dominates the stage towering above the mortals below. I loved the fact that as they became more powerful, the costume changed to reflect the perceived beauty of Grindr itself. But it was Lunn’s performance that really blew me away. At times cold and hard, at others gentle and loving, manipulating and commanding the people below to do their bidding, Lunn really gave life to the Siren. They also have a wonderful voice that soars, particularly for example in the power of the vocal in ‘Wanderlust’. Lunn really capped off a great set of performers that gave us Grindr users people we could easily associate with. I also am going to quickly mention James Aymon and Grant Jackson who were wonderful in their roles, not only worshipping at the feet of Grindr but also moving elements of the set around to provide various locales whilst singing their hearts out.

Grindr the Opera is quite a traditional opera in some ways. A good complex story with multiple, often interlinked characters is told through the medium of song alone. For me, and the very appreciative audience I was with, it worked on every level. It is obviously aimed at the GBT+ part of the alphabet, but the story itself has a much wider appeal to everyone. For those of us with the App – which we delete and re-download at frequent intervals – there is a particular resonance that makes the whole experience very relatable. The show is also tremendous fun, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It’s only running until the 8th of July, and I imagine tickets will be selling fast, so get yours now.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Grindr: The Opera! puts the most notorious gay hook-up app into the exaggerated world of opera. With musical styles ranging from baroque to contemporary pop, Grindr: The Opera! is a daring, humorous look at the changing landscape of gay relationships, and the greatest catalyst for the shift: Grindr.

We meet GRINDR, a mythical siren from remote antiquity who has been awoken from its millennial slumber by technology. Its power, which is derived from human lust, is exhibited as it manipulates its gay devotees in a soaring soprano.

CAST: James Aymon, Grant Jackson, James Lowrie, Christian Lunn, Billy J Vale, Dereck Walker and Santino Zapico

CREATIVES
William Spencer Director & Choreographer
Aaron Clingham Musical Director
David Shields Designer
Peter Bull Producer

25 May 2023 – 8 July 2023
http://uniontheatre.biz/

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