Above the Stag
Reviewed – 21st January 2020
“you’ll go and you’ll have a good time, but there’s not much of a lasting impression”
Since its inception in 2015, Four Play has more or less consistently had a production somewhere in London – a feat that usually only Shakespeare and Chekhov achieve. Does that mean Jake Brunger’s play is of the same calibre? Alas, not quite.
Four Play’s plot is kickstarted when Rafe (Ashley Byam) and Pete (Keeran Blessie), getting some serious FOMO from being each other’s only ever partners for the past seven years, proposition their friend Michael (Declan Spaine) to sleep with each of them to get all their anxieties out of their systems, which ultimately exposes the cracks in their relationship, as well as the jealousies in the supposedly polygamous arrangement Michael has with Andrew (Marc MacKinnon). The play gently touches on the idea of monogamy and whether the traditions of heterosexual relationships can simply be transposed onto homosexual relationships, although if you’re seeking a deep and nuanced exploration then look elsewhere; this is mostly frivolous stuff.
Brunger’s script is full of quips about labradoodles and your nan watching porn, and can sometimes feel like it relies on them a little too heavily to mask a lack of substance. This especially shows in what are clearly some updates to the references in the script – an exasperating gag about Apple TV stuck out as a particular offender. The writing does find moments of really juicy tension – a dinner party with all four characters was a notable highlight, in which Rafe and Pete try to maintain a lie that they’re unaware Andrew already knows is a lie. The script also moves at an excellent pace for the most part, although the final few scenes outstay their welcome a little.
The performances are also a mixed bag – Byam is radiantly energetic as Rafe but he and Blessie struggle to find chemistry, while Spaine’s aloofness teeters into an unengaged apathy a little too often. MacKinnon finds a lovely amount of depth in Andrew, with a standout performance at the aforementioned dinner party, and some very poignant moments with Rafe. The actors overall feel somewhat over-directed by Matthew Iliffe, resulting in an inauthenticity that makes it clear when someone’s been told to sit down or move across the stage or gesticulate in a certain way, which is a shame as Carrie-Ann Stein’s modern kitchen set design establishes a genuine domesticity so effectively.
Four Play ultimately feels like fast food theatre. Like a trip to McDonalds, you’ll go and you’ll have a good time, but there’s not much of a lasting impression and there’s nothing to really chew on.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by PBG Studios
Above the Stag until 22nd February
Previously reviewed at this venue: