King’s Head Theatre, London – until 9 April 2017
“He was wandering around topless, clearly drug-fucked, asking random guys to have sex. I took his hand and he grabbed me urgently, blue eyes intent and blazing.”
Patrick Cash’s The HIV Monologues slayed me last year so the opportunity to see another of his plays with Dragonflies Theatre was not one I wanted to pass up. The Chemsex Monologues did great business at the King’s Head last year and with that venue’s current tendency towards extremely LGBT-friendly material, it has made an unsurprising return here. Directed by Luke Davies, Cash’s storytelling winds together the tales of four people engaged – to varying degrees – in London’s chemsex scene.
For the uninitiated – it’s a gay subculture where guys get high and have sex with each other, but as post-club chillout parties have been transformed by harder and harder drugs, it has become a world not without its challenges. And without judgement, without condemnation, The Chemsex Monologues gives a real insight into the ways in which people get drawn in. A sexual health worker feeling lonely, a guy who can’t believe his luck at pulling the fittest guy in the club and unwilling to let the night end, a faithful fag hag, a pretty boy with insecurities – anyone, everyone?
It is a pretty niche world, a subculture within a minority, but Cash still gives us huge variety in the richly defined characters that are created here. Kane Surry’s Narrator frames the play with his initial foray into the world, Charly Flyte’s Fag Hag Cath is an amusing if slightly underwritten diversion into the female perspective, Matthew Hodson’s health worker is wittily sardonic as his better instincts get overridden by curiosity at the show’s heart, Denholm Spurr’s beautiful party boy is perfectly played in all his vulnerability, helplessly addicted to it all.
No easy answers are provided here, it feels more about awareness and rightly so, as the issues it lights upon are multi-layered and complex, rooted in the self-destructive tendencies that nag away at too many gay men in today’s world. In among the sexual health issues and ‘casual’ serious drug use, Cash carefully feeds in a vein of humour to keep it from getting too dark but there’s no doubting that the conversation that The Chemsex Monologues starts is one that needs to be had.