Review: 5 Guys Chillin'
Image (c) Laura Marie
Gareth Watkins - B
David Palmstrom - J
George Fletcher - M
George Bull - PJ
Tom Ratcliffe - R
With the rise of Chemsex related crime and the rapid growth of the sex offenders register, this taut, intimate and unflinching verbatim drama has never been more urgent.
Woven together using the real words of real guys found on Grindr, 5 Guys Chillin’ is a state of the nation play dressing the most urgent public health crisis of the twenty-first century.
Taken from over 50 hours of interviews from guys found through Grindr and other social media, this is an important look at the relatively new scene that social media apps have been fundamental in creating.
5 Guys Chillin' looks at changing attitudes to sex, relationships, dating, HIV and to our perception of what sexual relations can and should be.
Following highly acclaimed, sell-out performances in Dublin, New York, Sydney and Edinburgh, 5 Guys Chillin’ returns to London for a limited three week season.
First staged at the Brighton Fringe in 2015, this is a show that is intentionally designed to provoke a reaction and, post-show, some on-going, much-needed discussion.
For some, that reaction might just prove too much - evidenced here by several people leaving the auditorium mid-performance.
Reading the programme notes, it seems this has been a regular occurrence during the runs this play has had since its premiere.
That's hardly surprising because of the graphic nature of the subject matter, elicited from real-life interviews with gay men and thus, presumably, true.
Well, let's at least proceed on that basis, even if some of the real-life accounts might, possibly, involve exaggeration (though expert testimony does seem to back-up the verbatim material).
The setting here is, put simply, a party where 5 gay men have assembled for the purposes of having sex together.
Removing their day clothes and donning their party gear on arrival - shorts, singlets, jock-straps and the like - seemed almost like employees preparing for their working day rather than people seeking relaxation and enjoyment.
And, in a way, it seems oddly doleful, almost pathetic.
The party participants then set about taking various kinds of drugs and chemicals to fire-up their sexual appetites.
And then we hear a series of stories about their lives as gay men and also their experiences of this kind of party, which cover the gamut of sexual activity.
Some of the description is at times shocking and extreme and, at one point at least, bordering on the revolting, as the groans from the audience confirmed.
Now the play does not aim to make judgements about people's sexual preferences or the activities they indulge in.
We're really being offered a range of issues to chew-over, including addiction to drugs and sex, social and individual responsibility and much else besides.
There's no doubting the fact that theatre is an enormously powerful tool for exploring urgently vital social matters.
And the issues raised here are not merely important for the gay community - we should all be concerned about the worrying developments Peter Darney's play rightly highlights about addiction and the effects which technology and medical developments have had on sexual behaviour and health.
But theatre also needs to provide that magic 'something' that connects the audience with the characters, helping to understand motivations, needs and desires, and providing us with the sense that, even if we have not been 'entertained', we have experienced something we can appreciate, consider and then take a position on.
And that is lacking here - we hear a lot about the detail, but don't get nearly enough about motivations.
There's also an unavoidable element of titillation here given the style of the work and the way it's presented - with five well-honed bodies on display.
I don't think that was either necessary or desirable - another kind of story format could have revealed the very same issues, but in a much more profound way.
The play also covers an inordinate array of concerns which can only be given a glancing consideration at best and merely mentioned at worst, leaving the audience potentially feeling overwhelmed and confused.
This kind of verbatim testimony is certainly powerful and deserves to be heard.
Though this play is honest, brave and bold in may ways and obviously well-intentioned, it's dramatic approach and theatrical style proves to be its weakness rather than it's strength.
Though we need to know some of what could be called the 'gory details', too much of the sexual mechanics leaves us unable to appreciate the underlying motivations of the participants and their personal stories, and left me feeling rather emotionally neutral.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for King's Head Theatre
Our show listing for 5 Guys Chillin'
Read our reviews' policy