“the quest for hedonism with scant regard for the predictable consequences“
A man meets a mysterious stranger on a night out in Vauxhall; a sexy poster-boy gets taken to a chill-out by a porn star; a fag-hag named Cath is pushed to her limits at the party of the century; a sexual health worker struggles with the burden of community outreach.
Delivered as a series of interlinked monologues, Patrick Cash’s work takes a look at the ‘horny and high’ chemsex culture prevailing within some gay (and straight) cultures, in disturbing detail.
A near empty stage other than a neon light frame and a chair. In turn, a series of characters appear and tell us their story – each at first putting a positive spin on their situation; the highs, the hot sex, the immense euphoria …
Then the darkness. The reality. The play tackles the devastating effect chemsex can have. The dangers each of the users puts themselves in for their moment of ‘fun’. From unsafe sex to fatal overdoses, Chemsex Monologues highlights it all.
Other than Old Mother Meph (the odious host of the slam parties), the characters come across as fairly likeable everyday folk (other than all the men appear to have rock hard abs); the type of guys (and girl) you’d probably know – the type who lives for the weekend and to party!
But each character has their own flaws, drawn as with any addiction into a situation they rapidly lose control over. This is a tale of human of weakness at its extreme – the quest for hedonism with scant regard for the predictable consequences.
We’re given a very real insight into a darker world, but this has the potential to be much harder hitting. While the comedy character, safe sex worker Daniel is fun to watch (and nicely played by Matthew Hodson), is this the kind of piece that needs laughs? If Chemsex Monologues is meant as a cautionary tale, it doesn’t quite strike the right balance and needs a clearer message about the dangers.
You’ll probably come away knowing a few more drugs related expressions than before you went in, and you’ll certainly be moved but just not quite enough.
Photography by – Elliott Franks
Chemsex Monologues is at the King’s Head Theatre until 9th April. Tickets via:
“A painfully realistic portrayal of the harshness of real life endured by so many”
The working partnership of writer Leon Fleming and director Scott le Crass return with this bleak two-hander focusing on often ignored, mental health and modern day socio-economic issues.
Set in and around a Birmingham tower block, it’s a gritty real life tale of the hardships facing ‘Him’ (James Clay) and ‘Her’ (Helen Budge) – a close brother and sister both battling against illness, living on the breadline and a seemingly uncaring system.
The story flits between the childhood of the siblings, the sneaky Lambrini swigging sessions (hastily disguised with a Polo mint) discussing their hopes and dreams for later life, to present day – ‘Her’ now an unemployed mother of two young children struggling to cope and ‘Him’ also jobless and battling with mental health issues and the stigma that comes with them. Their mother, with her own complex issues adding to the ever increasing burden on the pair.
James Clay and Helen Budge are very believable siblings; slightly bossy older sister, insecure younger brother, relentless Mickey taking of one another, petty rivalries, but always a deep and caring, ever conquering love for one another.
Clay’s mannerisms and acting throughout are signs of an excellently researched piece. The constant awkwardness of his hands, wringing and grasping; his ever present knack of finding humour in adversity masking his inner sadness; the pained facial expressions, all very realistic traits of a young life being lost to the demons of anxiety and depression.
Budge as a mouthy mother and outspoken sister is equally charming. You really start to feel for her, struggling to cope and to make ends meet. We share her happiness and laughter and feel her pain as it finally all gets too much for her.
A stark set (Justin Williams and Jonny Rust) comprising of drab concrete paving and four featureless cubes made to resemble concrete blocks worked perfectly. Simply rearranged to create everything from a soulless jobcentre to a hospital bed or even a loving home – their simplicity belies their adaptability. Symbolic to the harshness of life, yet also with a hidden beauty.
The power of the piece unfortunately was lost at times due to the noise pollution that blights an otherwise wonderful little theatre.
Kicked in the Sh*tter makes you really think about people. Real people. The situations portrayed in Fleming’s plot are fact for millions around the country yet all too often the only air time they ever get portrays them all as spongers and layabouts. Our brother and sister are neither, they are where they are because of the hand life has dealt them – desperate for help, but faced with a black and white social security system that judges and rarely sees shades of grey.
It’s a painfully realistic portrayal of the harshness of real life endured by so many and thus deserves a larger audience; a perfect piece to be adapted for a television drama.
A disappointing turn out to the show I saw, perhaps the combined pairing of mental health and social economics a bit ‘too much’ for some, or they have preconceived ideas jaded by frivolous Channel 5 documentaries. I would implore you to go and see this show with an open mind. You will see things in a light you wouldn’t expect. You will be moved and touched.