King’s Head Theatre, London until 2 June 2018
Last time I saw F*cking Men at London’s King’s Head Theatre a man and woman walked out after the first few minutes. Sure, there’s every possibility a migraine was coming on, perhaps, or some other emergency. But all I could think at the time, giggling behind my hand, was: what exactly were you expecting from a play called F*cking Men, with three buff naked blokes on the poster, playing at one of London’s top LGBTQ+ theatres? Was there too much full frontal for you or not quite enough?
Anyway – F*cking Men is back and it’s as raunchy as ever, even funnier than last time, and still left me and my plus one (both thirty-something women) rather over-emotional. No walkouts to report, just plenty of hand-squeezing, tear-wiping, and nods of recognition from young gay couples, older gay couples, old gay couples, and thirty-something women alike.
An ever-evolving show, with three actors playing multiple parts, Joe DiPietro’s brilliant production is one I could go back and see again and again, and I loved spotting the new little tweaks in both script and characters (including contemporary references to Grindr and the new Duchess of Sussex).
The structure is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which consisted of interlocking scenes featuring different lovers from different levels of society. Promptly banned in the early 1900s, it was even too much too soon for notoriously liberal 1920s Berlin where they did much worse than walk out – attacking Schnitzler as a scandalous “Jewish pornographer”.
DiPietro’s first draft, in 2008, was set in contemporary New York, but we’re now firmly, recognisably, in England’s saunas, student flats, bars and broom cupboards.
The comedy factor is upped by newbie August Ohlsson, making his professional stage debut after graduating from Drama Studio London last year.
Since the actor speaks five (five!) languages fluently, I won’t criticise his slightly dodgy accents in parts of F*cking Men.
Actually, the ridiculousness of his daft posh undergrad’s ‘hooray Henry’ tones makes this character even funnier, and ten times the tw*t.
Ohlsson is a versatile performer, and later, as a straight-talking, honest and multi-faceted German porn star on a quest for true love, he really tugs at the heartstrings while also delivering some hilarious punchlines.
The incredibly impressive Richard De Lisle has returned as associate director.
He’s also the show’s consistently brilliant, older and more dominant characters, including a slimy, rich, cheating husband, a playwright (in an amusingly meta twist, writing a play about men who sleep with men), and a suave, but vulnerable, and lonely, famous broadcaster.
De Lisle is immensely watchable, and effortlessly manages to age 30 years and back again at the drop of a flatcap.
Liam Darby is terrific as an experimenting squaddie insisting “I’m not gay, I’m in the army!”, and as the undergrad’s nervous app hook-up, but perhaps less convincing as a famous actor with a very public girlfriend.
F*cking Men is an absolute joy, sensitively depicting characters that sometimes veer into parodies or stereotypes while simultaneously breaking down those stereotypes to reveal some very real depth.
Why are we so surprised that a fit young guy who performs on camera for a living really wants a soulmate? Or a confused violent squaddie has the maturity to grow, apologise, and become a loving boyfriend?
It shouldn’t really come as a shock to realise humans are multi-faceted.
F*cking Men challenges our assumptions and gets you thinking. It questions monogamy and promiscuity but doesn’t chastise its audience into concluding either is better.
I hope that F*cking Men continues to evolve and resonate with new audiences. Expect scatterings of nudity throughout, brief simulated sex scenes, naughty words, and a really gorgeous ending.