Sunday, 26 March 2017

Theatre review: The Chemsex Monologues

Patrick Cash's The Chemsex Monologues has had some good buzz in the last year, but the King's Head's packed schedule (which tends to put shows I might otherwise be interested in on at 9pm on a school night,) meant there wasn't a chance for me to see it; Luke Davies' production now returns and has a couple of matinees, so I managed to fit it in. Although it deals with gay characters I can identify with the play about as much as I can with one set in a remote African village: I've never been a big clubber, my sanity's fragile enough without adding drugs to the mix, and frankly the idea that you could be having enough sex to get bored of it and need chemicals to spice it up seems like science fiction. Still, Cash manages to invoke a world that doesn't seem all that alien in the end, despite revolving around a series of club nights and the private sex parties that follow them, where everyone is on a cocktail of drugs so safe sex easily becomes an afterthought.

The four monologues span a couple of months on this scene, and largely revolve around a young man called Nameless whom the first Narrator (Kane Surry) picks up in a club and takes back to a friend's house to do drugs and have sex with. Next Nameless himself (Denholm Spurr) speaks, revealing his own insecurities beneath the boy everyone wants to fuck. He can't believe his luck when he pulls a porn star and goes off to a chemsex party with him, but things take a tragic turn. The amount of drugs being consumed seems to increase with each monologue, and a few months later Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte,) a single mother with bad taste in men, finds out the hard way that her gay best friend is using her every bit as much as her boyfriends did.

There's also a voice here to represent the baffled outsider like me, as despite being a sexual health worker Daniel (Matthew Hodson) only sees the aftereffects of the scene; when he does go to a party he's shocked to see the reasons he's seen HIV infection statistics rising. Of the four, Narrator's voice is the least distinct - it feels like the playwright is trying to give a slightly poetic lilt to his monologue that hasn't quite come off. He makes more sense as a character when he returns for an epilogue set a couple of years later, and ecnounters a much-changed Nameless again. Spurr and Flyte are probably the best at conveying the various characters in their monologues, while Hodson injects a self-deprecating humour into his that stops it from getting too dark. It's a bleak subject though - this isn't really a show that tries to explain the "whys" but as with so many issues in the gay community, residual self-hatred despite the progress in attitudes seem to be behind why people would want to mix sex with self-destruction. Once it gets into its stride Cash's play creates an interesting if dispiriting world.

The Chemsex Monologues by Patrick Cash is booking until the 9th of April at the King's Head Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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