Theatre 503, London – until 4 February 2023
In a week where a petition to remove LGBTQ+ education from the primary school curriculum has reached the threshold for a parliamentary debate, you will struggle to find a more relevant piece of theatre than The Boys are Kissing. Zak Zarafshan’s debut play premiered at Theatre 503 this month, and we were delighted to be invited to the press performance of this camp, clever comedy about parental expectations and angelic interventions.
The action begins with two couples awkwardly making small talk in a garishly decorated living room. As they discuss the benefits of swapping London life for a huge house outside the city, they glance anxiously out of the window at their children on a (suitably safety-netted) trampoline. So far, so ordinary. But there’s a palpable sense of tension that clearly goes beyond a concern about bumped heads or broken bones. And it’s not too long before we discover why Sarah (Amy McAllister) and Matt (Philip Coreia) have been invited to nibble on homemade cupcakes at Amira (Seyan Sarvan) and Chloe’s (Eleanor Wyld) perfect pad.
It turns out that their nine-year-old sons, Samir and Lucas, were caught kissing in the school playground, sending parenting WhatsApp groups into overdrive and resulting in an edict from the Headteacher to “do something about it”. If only the foursome could agree on what “it” is, let alone what they’re supposed to do. Luckily, help is at hand in the fabulous form of two angelic guardians of the gays (Shane Convery – Cherub One) and Kishore Walker (Cherub Two), who have been dispatched from the immortal realm to “put out little gay fires”.
It’s an impressive debut from Zarafshan, which brilliantly blends different styles of humour to create a piece which feels fresh and unique. The scenes between the parents are full of well-written observational comedy which would work perfectly well as a play in their own right, but the interjections of the cherubs create a nice switch of pace and turn what could be a vanilla production into something as camp as Christmas (complete with a Dickens-worthy cautionary trip into the future). Aldo Vazquez’s set works well to tie together the different worlds, with the flamboyant floral wallpaper harbouring a secret which is used to excellent effect during a climatic and hilarious scene in which the cherubs take control of the situation.
The four parents are rounded and relatable, each with their own flaws and insecurities but ultimately all wanting to do the right thing for their own child in their own way. Allister is especially entertaining as Sarah, who strives to strike an impossible balance between maintaining a friendship with Chloe and keeping the peace with the other parents, without being branded a bigot or ruining Lucas’ 11th birthday party.
Parents of the audience will recognise so many of their experiences, including playground politics, pushy power mums and the dreaded class WhatsApp group. Zarafshan has also tried to work a number of deeper themes into the play, alongside the obvious LGBTQ+ issues, some of which (such as the brief nod to the rights of donor-conceived children) feel underdeveloped as a result. The trip into the future to see how the events of the play affect Lucas and Samir into adulthood is also perhaps a little heavy-handed but the message delivered is vital.
Overall, The Boys are Kissing is an ambitious and exciting piece of work which manages to offer an important moral while being wickedly funny. It’s a fantastic debut play from Zak Zarafshan and a great excuse to head to the theatre for an night out without the kids. (The moral may be that it’s all about the children, but the play itself is definitely not! )
The Boys are Kissing plays at Theatre 503 from 17 January to 4 February 2023. We received a complimentary press ticket to the performance on 24 January.