Sunday, 16 August 2015

Theatre review: Fucking Men

The King's Head revives their biggest hit of recent years, Fucking Men, in a new production by Geoffrey Hyland. Of course if the sweary title - evidently a theme this year - isn't enough to draw the crowds in, maybe writer Joe DiPietro's higher profile, with Memphis still a hit, can only help. The inspiration is Arthur Schnitzler's much-adapted La Ronde, which follows men and women in a series of sexual encounters that eventually form a circle. DiPietro's is an all-gay millennial take on the story, each scene taking place before and after a sexual encounter between two men, one of whom will move on to the next one. So we open with the Soldier (Harper James,) who's heard of a rent-boy who hangs out by the barracks. Protesting his heterosexuality and masculinity all the time, he pays for his first blow job from a man.

By the next scene it's a month later and the Soldier is a regular in a steam room where he hits on the Graduate Student (Ruben Jones,) who later ends up having sex with his Student (Euan Brockie.)


And so the ten scenes go on, until things come full circle and the Journalist (Richard Stemp) spends a night with the same rent boy, no longer hanging out in a dark alleyway and working marginally more respectably as an Escort (Chris Wills.) We find out his experience with the Soldier in the opening scene had unexpected consequences. Along the way there's also a married couple (Jonathan McGarrity, Richard De Lisle) who aren't equally enthusiastic about their open relationship, a Porn Star (Haydn Whiteside) and a closeted Hollywood Actor (Johnathon Neal.)


DiPietro seems to drop a bit of a joke at his own expense into the play with the inclusion of a verbose, pretentious Playwright (Darren Bransford,) whose big mouth ends up opening a can of worms for the Actor. On the surface this could be textbook lazy gay theatre, with its focus on sex and Jones, James, De Lisle and Wills each providing aFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!(possibly Brockie too, but not from where I was sitting.) But DiPietro is too good a playwright for this to be an evening of gratuitous nudity and queer theatre cliché: He makes a surprisingly warm and plausible argument for casual sex being a natural part of wanting an emotional connection, acknowledges the part HIV/AIDS still plays in the gay community without overstating it, and avoids the self-loathing that all-too-often dominates gay plays about sex.


The King's Head has rearranged its seating into a thrust that I can most generously describe as eccentric, given that half the centre block now technically doesn't face the stage; cue having to sit at an angle that makes the benches even less comfortable than they already were. I can't condone Hyland's decision to soundtrack the play with "Bolero" played on pan-pipes either, but otherwise the production is pretty strong. The performances aren't all of a standard but particularly good are Jones, Wills, Neal, and James whose Soldier plausibly goes through an intense character journey despite barely appearing onstage after the first two scenes.

Fucking Men by Joe DiPietro, based on La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler, is booking until the 30th of August at the King's Head Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

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