White Bear Theatre, London – 22 April 2023
A good double bill of one act plays can be a bit of a rarity. It might consist of pieces with radically different themes by diverse writers who adopt varying tones forming an unsatisfactory pairing. Or it might just gel as a cohesive evening where each element benefits from the presence of the other and enhances the overall experience. Fortunately Generation Games, currently playing at the White Bear Theatre, falls into the latter category with both plays examining intergenerational gay relationships. Although written by two different authors the pair are tonally not dissimilar with both specialising mostly in a generally gentle form of humour and gradually revealing a secret from the protagonists’ pasts.
First up is Michael McManus’ A Certain Term which takes place in Graham’s flat six months into the future. He is preparing for the arrival of a group of friends who will reminisce about the past and remember those who, unlike one of their icons Gloria Gaynor, have failed to survive. Indeed Graham himself is clearly in thrall to his younger self – he still opts for vinyl and physical books, has Dr Who memorabilia, supports West Ham (clearly a lost cause) and pride of place on the wall is given over to a picture of Robert, his still longed-for ex.
First to arrive at the party and far too early is the rather younger Joe, invited along after a casual drunken encounter in a pub. McManus has found a neat way here to illuminate Graham’s former life as the questioning younger man acts as a conduit for the audience’s understanding of character. He also serves to reveal the radically different take the current generation has about its sexual choices and the language that is deployed in foregrounding that experience; Joe is not a big fan of “labels”. In a slightly contrived moment Graham has to leave Joe alone in the flat – the former is evidently very trusting. Cue the arrival of Robert who, age and experience wise, sits between the other two. Further discussion of and revelations about the past ensues but to say anymore would provide major spoilers, so I’ll not go there.
The second half of the evening introduces us to couple Adrian and Simon in I F—-n’ Love You by Charlie Ross Mackenzie. Both work in broadcast media though the former’s star is waning as swiftly as the latter’s is apparently rising. The two are aiming for a good night’s sleep but seem quite a way from getting it if concerns over an interview with Bucks Fizz, ongoing flat redecoration, urinary issues, a pinging mobile, an unfortunately placed fitness dumbbell, some extensive overthinking and bouts of insecurity are anything to go by. As with the previous play the generation gap and attitudes to gay history are explored and, once again, there’s a late personal revelation which surprises but makes complete sense of the play’s narrative. The humour is possibly a little more robust than with its predecessor and clearly owes a debt to Mackenzie’s time as a stand-up comedian.
The cast of four – Mackenzie himself, Luke McGibney, Simon Stallard and Joe Ashman are on point throughout managing both the broad comedy and the more tender moments with a good degree of skill. Ashman takes honours appearing in both plays as the subject of the older men’s affections and thoroughly convinces with a brace of characterisations which have depth and subtlety. I had assumed, until I checked, that the plays had been directed by the same person; not so, therefore Bryan Hodgson and Edward Applewhite are to be congratulated for achieving tonal consistency across the evening. Philip Normal’s pleasing set designs make excellent use of a relatively confined space and I thought having each of the pieces face directly to one half of the two sided audience was an excellent idea and meant that nobody felt short changed.
Apparently this brace of dramas has been on quite a journey since first conceived with pandemic postponements, try outs under the name Gay Generations and some extensive rewriting. This has evidently paid dividends and resulted in a well dovetailed pair of pieces which certainly entertain but also encourage reflection about age differentiated relationships in general and our personal pasts in particular.
It doesn’t always happen but this brace of comedy dramas works as an enjoyable integrated evening