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FOUR PLAY by Jake Brunger at Above The Stag | Review

PBGSTUDIOS: Ashley Byam, Keeran Blessie, Declan Spaine.
PBGSTUDIOS: Ashley Byam, Keeran Blessie, Declan Spaine.

People go to university for many reasons. For the majority, the main one is to get a degree and, following that, a good job. However, along with the educational aspects, university is also a place to make life-long friendships and maybe even meet your one true love. But what happens afterwards? A question that is addressed in Jake Brunger’s Four Play at the Above the Stag Theatre.

Seven and a half years after having met, and fallen in love, at university, Pete (Keeran Blessie) and Rafe (Ashley Byam) are still together and still in love. They have a lovely apartment and live the perfect DINK life – wearing designer clothes, shopping at Sainsbury’s, drinking Chablis and enjoying snacks containing sun dried tomatoes. Life couldn’t be any better for these two. But there is a niggling doubt that has wormed its way into their relationship. After over seven years together, Rafe and Peter couldn’t have a firmer relationship but have started to wonder if they have possibly missed out on certain aspects of gay life. Neither of them has had ‘relations’ with anyone else. They met, fell in love and immediately started the ultimate monogamous relationship. However, they think they have hit upon an answer to their conundrum. They are going to experience one night each of being with another man. Being eminently sensible and logical chaps, they have put a lot of thought and research into working out the finer points of their plan and finding the right man for them to sleep with. After all their work, they have settled on an old friend, Michael (Declan Spaine). The fact that Michael is the boyfriend of another university friend Andrew (Marc MacKinnon) is seen by the boys as a positive, as in ensures their one night can be no threat to their relationship. So, Pete and Rafe have done their homework, found their man and now just have to put the plan to Michael and see if he is willing to go along.

I first saw Four Play at its world premiere in 2016 in Theatre 503 and loved it then. Jake Brunger’s writing totally blew me away. Nearly four years later, the writing is still first rate and very relevant to the world it is portraying. It is so easy to get drawn into the story of these two couples as they instantly reminded me of people I knew as friends or acquaintances. Not because the four are some hackneyed stereotype of gay guys – which they most certainly aren’t , but because all four are totally believable as people. In some ways it was easy to identify with them. For example, Andrew’s insecurities about his relationship – him a ‘6’ and Michael a ‘10’ – really struck a chord with me and, I’m sure everyone else that has ever felt they were punching above their grade in the dating game, and full credit to Marc MacKinnon for his fabulous portrayal of Andrews fears and concerns.

In some ways, Four Play is unusual as it begins with a long opening speech – from Rafe to Michael – which sets the atmosphere for the rest of the play. Ashley Byam absolutely excelled in this. As he speaks every fibre in Rafe’s body is feeling awkward and uncomfortable and Ashley brings all of that out in his movements and delivery so that there are times, I almost wanted to run down and help him get everything out. Once the lights came up, Ashley maintained Rafe’s intensity and awkwardness, which was really highlighted by Declan’s cool, calm and slightly amused Michael. Keeran Blessie doesn’t have lots to do in the first scene, mainly sit and listen, but he brings a real are to the skill of sitting, which is a talent lots of actors could do with learning. And I must admit, one of my favourite moments in Keeran’s performance was the faces he pulled when Pete was presented with wine from a box – priceless!

Director Matthew ILiffe uses Carrie-Ann Stein’s kitchen set well as the homes of the two couples. However, having them occupy the same space didn’t entirely work for me as, to my mind, the kitchen didn’t look high end enough for the affluent Rafe and Pete and looked too nice for the more down at heel Andrew and Michael. It’s a minor point but I might have gone for a living room set where shabby chic could have worked for both couples. Still, what do I know?

So, second time around, Four Play is still highly entertaining and enjoyable. The play hooks you into the lives of Rafe, Pete, Andrew and Michael from the start and just doesn’t let you go. I was so happy that once again, I left the theatre loving all four of these men and wishing them all the best in their future lives.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

A comic play about sex and commitment in the 21st century.
Rafe and Pete have hit a rut. After seven-and-a-half blissfully happy years, their lack of sexual experience is driving them apart.

So when they proposition mutual friend Michael to help out with their problems – knowing full well that Michael has his own partner Andrew – what seems like a simple solution quickly spirals out of control.

Director – Matthew Iliffe
Assistant Director – Chloe Seyer
Designer – Carrie-Ann Stein
LX & Sound – TBC
SM – James Prendergast
Set Builder – David Moore

Cast: Keeran Blessie, Ashley Byam, Marc MacKinnon, Declan Spaine.

Four Play
by Jake Brunger

15 January – 22 February 2020
Studio Theatre
1 hour 25 minutes with no interval

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