All the reviews of F*cking Men at the King’s Head referred to its setting ‘in the gay community’. If it does nothing else, Memphis writer Joe diPietro’s re-working of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 Viennese cycle of illicit courtship La Ronde proves there’s no such thing.
Community, and even mutual understanding are in short supply in most of the couplings between the serial pairings of gay men who hand each other on to the next scene like a sticky baton in a relay race. Having confined himself to the gay milieu and a very specific pre-millennial period, diPietro has to plough the obvious furrows of prostitution, soft drugs, infidelity, shame, ‘I’m not really gay’ denial, HIV, bisexuality and violence and it’s only in a couple of the couplings that there’s sufficient dramatic depth and realism to vary the stereotypes, spraytanned nudity, dry humping and snappy one-liners.
But these are the scenes that make F*cking Men less voyeuristic, more theatrical and worth seeing: Richard deLisle and a particularly excellent Jonathan McGarrity are the most three-dimensional characters as a married gay couple who’ve been together twelve years and now take their sexual pleasures discreetly outside the home so as not to rock any domestic boats. One of them’s happier about it than the other.
This is such a hardy perennial on dating sites that it’s worth further exploration as it illustrates the potential hypocrisy of those who’ve fought for and embraced gay marriage, who double-barrel their surnames but still think it’s OK to shag anything that moves.
The partners claim to be modern and ‘not trapped by monogamy’ but urban gay society marginalises more and more Bridget Jones ‘singletons’ who are considered only suitable for one-off casual sex by men who are already coupled. It would be more interesting also to explore the emotions of the men who might be getting laid but may feel discounted, or insulted by the arrogance that ‘my partner says it’s OK’ somehow salves the situation. ‘Other women’ have had to put up with this for centuries, but it’s comparatively new to Boystown.
In the final scene, a mature but compromised and closeted television journalist played with sensitive accuracy and genuine pathos by Richard Kemp finds his emotions stifled by those around him and blocking his ability to grieve for a much-loved partner. It’s very well done, although his discovery of emotional redemption in the rent boy who also starts the relay stretches credulity almost as much as the notion he could charge £500 a night in a market out of which the bottom has definitely dropped.
Schnitzler’s original piece outraged Viennese society by suggesting that sexual contact transgressed all boundaries of class and status, but there isn’t sufficient shock value or enough variation of the characters in Geoffrey Hyland‘s contemporary production.
This lot look as if they all go to the same gym.
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