5 Guys Chillin’
King’s Head Theatre
Opening Night – 19th May 2017
“A hard hitting show with graphic content expertly performed by 5 excellent actors”
A visit to the theatre for a lot of people is to be entertained and to leave the venue with a smile. 5 Guys Chillin’ is a hard hitting, thought-provoking piece of theatre. It informs, shocks and educates but leaves the viewer rather shell shocked and certainly devoid of smiles.
Written by Peter Darney, 5 Guys Chillin’, was originally staged at the Brighton Fringe Festival and now returns to the King’s Head Theatre Islington following a stint there in 2015. It has also been in Edinburgh, Dublin and New York.
The play discusses in detail gay sex and in particular the recent move to Chemsex, something this reviewer was blissfully ignorant of before seeing the show. It seems there is a slang which many people may have no idea of; Talk of tops, bottoms, Grindr, G, saunas, and chill-outs is like listening to another language. However I now have an understanding of what a chill party, slamming and Tina are though I somehow doubt Darney’s sole intention was to educate the uninitiated.
On entering the theatre patrons are given a condom and the programme has a fascinating piece written by David Stuart from 56 Dean Street explaining the past and present sexualised drug use by gay men. It explores, as does the play, the change of attitude towards HIV once feared and now almost accepted as part of life for some. It isn’t the death sentence it was in the 80’s. PrEP, a new drug that can prevent HIV transmission without the use of condoms, could one day be widely available to those who are at high risk of coming into contact with the virus.
It would seem that 5 Guys Chillin’ is targeted at a certain audience that may even be titillated by the sexual content of this show, though as a few people that left mid performance it seems that this isn’t a show for everyone. Sex plays a big part in the production, some of the descriptions of experiences the actors have had are likely to be offensive to some.
There is some nudity and graphic portrayal of sex acts.
The production begins with the five guys meeting with the intention of taking drugs and having sex with each other. We then learn of their various experiences on the gay scene and chill-out parties such as this one. The set, lighting and sound enhance the experience of the event we are witnessing from a close up and almost voyeuristic position.
The seating is on three sides meaning you are never far away from the action. As the event progresses there is a move to harder injected drugs and the characters show their deeper fragilities that perhaps the drug and sex scene seems to numb for them. The five guys are very convincing in acting out the words of verbatim interviews collected by Darney. There does seem to be a feeling of them telling stories that progressively up the shock level, though each act out the vulnerability of the character expertly.
What the play does successfully is to look at the stories behind the glory of gay sex and in particular the more recent move to hook up with complete strangers for sex via sites like Grindr. The play points out Chemsex puts users at greater risk of overdosing, convulsions, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as well as mental health problems and becoming the victim of sexual assault.
The show finishes with all actors locked in time as the audience files out in quiet contemplation. It is without doubt a well researched and written a show that will appeal to many but the explicit content has the ability to offend some unaware of its graphic content. It does above all educate to the dangers of entering into that world.
5 Guys Chillin’ runs for 75 minutes and is playing at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington until 3rd June.