Review: The Chemsex Monologues
Image: King's Head Theatre
Rich Watkins - the Narrator
Denholm Spurr - Nameless
Charly Flyte - Fag Hag Cath
Matthew Hodson - Daniel the Sexual Health Worker
The Chemsex Monologues explore the sexual, high world of the chillouts through six different characters.
A nameless narrator meets a sexy boy on a Vauxhall night out, who introduces him to G’s pleasures; the poster boy for Room Service gets taken to Old Mother Meth’s place by a porn star; Fag Hag Cath is finding the chillouts have become more about the sex; Daniel is a sexual health worker who does community outreach in the saunas; Rob’s weekend partying is beginning to seep into his weekday work; and the nameless narrator meets up with his sexy boy again in different circumstances.
Explicit, erotic and touching, The Chemsex Monologues display a realm that is sometimes dark, but populated by very real, loveable human beings.
Premiered at the European Chemsex Forum 2016.
Five monologues delivered by four characters is the basic structure of this important and powerful piece from writer Patrick Cash.
It enjoyed a successful spell at the King's Head theatre earlier in the year, and now benefits from a short reprise.
Premiering at the Chemsex Forum this year, it is a shrewdly-crafted, emotive work which manages to concoct an informative blend of humour and tragedy that leverages the specific context to raise issues that have much wider applicability.
For the uninitiated, 'chemsex' as described here is the practice whereby men use certain types of drugs when having sex with other men.
The motivation for this drug use, at least on the face of it, is to lower inhibitions and enhance sexual performance.
But, as becomes evident almost from the start, this is a hugely complex issue - it's not merely a question of popping a pill, or snorting some spurious concoction of substances to have amazing sex.
Chemsex is an activity which seems to be on the rise (no pun intended), yet the general public only becomes aware of it through media reports when tragedy strikes - death through overdose and/ or combining different drugs, for example.
Mr Cash doesn't spare us from such poignant catastrophes, nor does he withhold any of the details an examination of this subject necessarily involves.
There are explicit and graphic descriptions of drug-fuelled sex between men as well as frenzied sex parties - not for those who are easily embarrassed, I'm afraid.
Though one could view some of these details as erotic, they are not used gratuitously and are pretty-much essential to authenticate and ground both the story and the theme in present-day reality.
Each monologue here provides a different perspective - and also enables us to appreciate the intricacy of the subject-matter.
Richard Watkins' Narrator - who starts and ends the piece - is a gay man out for a good time and doesn't hesitate in taking drugs when he meets a sexually eager young partner.
However, when the ecstatic sex is over, he can't tell the younger man anything more about his feelings for him other than he is "cute".
Charly Flyte's Fag Hag Cath, sporting a dazzling sparkly top, sees her gay friend’s health declining through prolonged sleep deprivation and lack of food.
But he can't recognise and appreciate that she is a true friend who really cares for him and is concerned for his well-being.
Sexual health worker, Daniel (Matthew Hodson), obviously understands the health dangers and implications of chemsex, but is nonetheless drawn to it by its powerful allure.
And in Denholm Spurr's Nameless, we find a young man residing in the hinterland between perplexing adolescence and confident adulthood who sports tattoos based on family holidays, worries what his parents might think if they found out about his lifestyle and considers it impolite not to have sex with someone who gives him drugs.
Through the monologues and characters - excellently described here by a fine cast - we learn about, among many other things, the risks some men are prepared to take to achieve a sense of social and personal 'validation' - to feel wanted, valued and loved, I suppose.
There's something rather sad in all of this, though this is not a piece which seeks to point fingers, cast blame, or judge.
It would be easy to categorise 'The Chemsex Monologues' as simply focusing on a niche issue, pertaining to merely a small minority who choose of their own free will to indulge in risky activities.
If that were true, it would still be - and actually is - an important work for the minority concerned.
But this show goes much further, forcing us all to re-examine our own personalities, foibles, anxieties and risk-taking as well as how we relate to other human beings both sexually and emotionally.
Peppered with rich humour and entertaining on many levels this is an engrossing, strikingly thought-provoking work.
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