Reviewed – 4th April 2019
“A fresh, compellingly surreal exploration of an underworld that deserves a stage and discussion. It’s frustrating the story is so convoluted”
When school teacher Chris is accused of sexual assault by a past Grindr hook-up, he spirals into a depression that lands him at a shady chemsex party. A mysterious stranger warns Chris to go home, but depressed and alone, Chris decides to stay, whatever the consequences.
Written by Timothy Graves, and directed by Peter Taylor, Among Angels brings us to the darkest side of London’s gay party scene. It’s a world of syringes and pipes, sugar daddies and questionable consent, where love is sneered at and sex is an expression of self-hatred. The play’s disorienting transitions, stark lighting (Jordan Moffatt), and spoken word full of religious references and Bible verses, create the sense of a paranoid high. Graves and Taylor have placed us in a world of the gritty unreal, where angels walk in drug dens. The show is a fresh, compellingly surreal exploration of an underworld that deserves a stage and discussion. It’s frustrating the story is so convoluted.
A bit of purposeful disorientation can be effective. However, Graves’ script is so dense and difficult to follow, the confusion detracts from the experience. The story begins with Chris (Stephen Papaioannou) being arrested for sexual assault. Then suddenly he’s at a chemsex party with Pete (Christopher Hardcastle) and Adam (Tommy Papaioannou). It’s a very long scene. We don’t know who Pete and Adam are, and apparently neither does Chris. Their banter is aimless, and the play feels stalled. Why is Chris there? Why are we spending so much time with these random characters?
The story seems to have disappeared entirely until Jamie (Kieran Faulkner) appears, warning Chris to leave. But then a flashback abandons Chris completely. There’s a lot about Jamie being a ghost/angel, but not enough about why or how he’s been haunting/guarding Chris. The afterlife – hastily explained in chaotic scenes that oddly intertwine with fourth wall-breaking acknowledgement of the theatre (the characters suddenly aware they’re in a play) – makes very little sense.
The sexual assault charge is forgotten until near the end when we suddenly see the victim giving his testimony. The play’s description says Chris is “falsely accused”, but when the victim tells his story, there’s no suggestion he’s lying, and no explanation for why he would lie. The meaning of this scene is lost. Also shoved into the end is a storyline that Chris and Jamie have had an unseen/unspoken relationship for years, that Chris’s passion is acting, and that Jamie was a promising cellist.
It’s messy, confusing storytelling. Graves spends far too long on empty, establishing material in the first half, and then tries to cram everything of importance into the second. The last fifteen minutes is a whirlwind of muddled melodrama.
Among Angels is highly relevant, exposing light on a shadowy subject that’s perhaps more immediately dangerous to young people than many realise. A sharp outside eye to cut and reorganise could give this play real potential.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Craig Fuller
Courtyard Theatre until 27th April
Previously reviewed at this venue: