Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 7th December 2020
“The production’s plot and script is unfortunately rather heavy-handed at times”
GHBoy, directed by John Pashley and produced by James Quaife, follows the story of Robert (Jimmy Essex), a 35-year-old gay man trapped in a pattern of substance abuse and infidelity. When his boyfriend Sergi (Marc Bosch) proposes unexpectedly, Robert is compelled to turn back to his old ways, ignoring the advice of his best friend Jasminder (Aryana Ramkhalawon) and his mother Debbie (Nicola Sloane). Through attending sessions with the art therapist Simon (Devesh Kishore), Robert explores his past and begins to uncover a devastating truth buried in his unconscious.
The play’s title is a reference to GHB, a drug popular in the party scene and an old favourite of our lead and his on-and-off lovers (Sylvester Akinrolabu). However, GHB is also known as ‘date rape drug’ as it can render its takers unconscious in large doses. The use of GHB for such wicked means was thrust into the spotlight in 2016 when a man named Stephen Port was convicted of raping and murdering at least four gay and bisexual men after slipping them the drug at his flat. GHBOY takes inspiration from this infamous case with the inclusion its own serial killer, Benjamin (Geoff Aymer), who appears in several dream sequences.
The play’s strengths lie with its supporting cast. Akinrolabu is particularly strong in his numerous roles and Aymer is wonderfully menacing as the show’s murderer. Sloane also did well to step into her role with less than half a day’s notice after an accident involving the original cast member, Buffy Davis.
The production’s plot and script (Paul Harvard) is unfortunately rather heavy-handed at times. The show bounces between a plethora of themes ranging from substance abuse, AIDS, and male prostitution to familial death, murder, and sexual assault, and never really settles on any one topic for too long. For example, Robert confesses in an argument with Sergi that he is HIV+ but his positive status is never addressed again after this. The audience is also suddenly made aware that Robert’s father recently died though the impact of this on his life is not explored or shown consequently outside of this one scene. These themes are all very interesting and were worthy of further exploration. The result of this neglection is that when Robert’s repressed memory is revealed at the play’s end, it just joins another long line of issues and complexes.
The art therapy studio serves as the stage’s backdrop with easels and painting supplies strewn across shelves and the floor (Bettina John). Plastic buckets, two small ladders, and a rectangular slab are repositioned between scenes to make the required furniture, whether that be a bed, a table, or a seat.
There are numerous scenes which focus on the artistic and creative process – such as when Robert and his mother paint the interior of their family home – yet actual paint does not feature until the very final scenes. Though understandably messy, it would have been great to see the act of painting taking place, especially in one scene where Robert and Simon admire the former’s work and triumphantly hold up a disappointing blank piece of paper to the audience.
GHBoy touches on a lot of very important modern and poignant issues but does not spend enough time on any for satisfactory exploration. If this production were to establish a clearer message throughout, it could be a very powerful piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Bettina John
Charing Cross Theatre until 20th December
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