King’s Head Theatre, London – until 9 April 2017
The Chemsex Monologues is not a poster production – it does not preach of the dangers that this ever-growing scene is obviously intimately entwined with, nor does it paint a rosy picture of the orgasmic highs and the Bacchanalian orgies. Daniel (Matthew Hodson) goes to his first chemsex party expecting exactly this, determined to try it out despite working in 56 Dean Street as a sexual health nurse and therefore being well aware of the pitfalls to avoid. The reality is stark and exposing – the 40-something year-old is so afraid of having missed out on a nirvana synonymous with proclivity in the scene, but actually sees a group of youths desperately hooking up to seek mutually pleasurable validation. Hodson brings a refreshingly light-hearted perspective to the show, a camp performance that is endearing and comedic. But more than this, Hodson’s character is grounded and easier to relate to – a rock of normality that contrasts the seemingly insane scene erupting all around.
Patrick Cash’s production is a set of cyclical stories, narratives that describe the situation and simultaneously probe nonjudgmentally into each characters’ wants and desires. The core thread that links one to the next is centred around the aptly named Nameless (Denholm Spurr). Nameless is a teenager, the current poster boy of the scene with Adonis-like looks and piercing blue eyes that stop a man in their tracks. At least that’s what happened to Narrator (Kane Surry), who risks missing family commitments as he gets caught up in the magnetism, the heady mix of house and trance and sexual gratification. But the cocktail of drugs and sex that envelopes the gay chemsex scene inevitably leads to the comedown and the hangover of the next afternoon. As the reality settles in, lust and objectification is mistaken for love and affection – the poster boy simply doesn’t know any better. Narrator (Surry) picks up on the little touches that draw him in, a shared look or the light touch of a hand, that vulnerable need for simple contact. Surry’s performance is shy and guilt-ridden, a meandering flow to this speech that puts the audience at ease.
But even Nameless (Spurr) is star-struck by his poster boy, his version of the perfect man. For someone that gets by on his perfect looks, the unattainable Hercules can only come from porn. Desperate for approval and way out of his league, Nameless is willingly drawn further into the labyrinth, a dangerous maze peppered with meth, sex parties and leading to an inevitably gruesome end. Suddenly the danger is real, present and happening… all because one person overdosed on G. Spurr gives lights and shade to his character, switching effortlessly from cocksure to terrified in the blink of an eye.
“Friends who bond classy, stay classy”. Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte) is determined to be a part of the scene, stay relevant and fun and youthful. But she has a two-year-old, responsibilities that she is trying to take seriously. No drugs around the baby, Cath is a mother first. But, she follows the ringleaders around like a puppy dog, desperate for approval as much as the gay twinks that trade their bodies for meth at these sordid depictions of the scene. Flyte’s performance is the pick of the night – complete and developed, with an understanding for her character’s nuances and mannerisms. The combination of the Flyte’s eye for background and Cash’s detailed writing is an addictive mix.
There is little to praise in the stage realisation of The Chemsex Monologues – the blocking is simple, the lighting basic and the set non-existent. Luke Davies puts Cash’s script rightly at the centre, where it shines out as an insightful, considered and honest piece of writing. This isn’t a hate campaign or an outreach programme attempting to educate about the inevitable issues in today’s chemsex scene, but neither is it glorified or sugar-coated. For so many that are nameless, this is simply life. Not knowing any better, they fall deeper down the rabbit-hole. Cash recognises this and captures its essence for all to see.