Tag Archives: Network Theatre Company

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

Network Theatre

Reviewed – 10th March 2020

★★★★★

 

“the production captures the sense of hysteria which defined the lives and loves of a generation of gay men”

 

The trauma of living through the AIDS crisis has been covered well in the theatre from the hard-hitting musicality of “Rent” and “Falsettos” to the powerful no-nonsense “The Normal Heart” and “Angels in America.”

Harvey Fierstein’s restless comedy-drama “Torch Song Trilogy” played its own important part in the charge in 1981, while his lesser-known “Safe Sex” trilogy (three separate plays rather than one play in three acts like its predecessor) appeared on Broadway in 1987, only receiving a partial UK premiere in 2014.

As part of the VAULT Festival, Network Theatre concentrates on one-third of that trilogy in its staging of “Safe Sex,” a 40-minute piece that stands alone rather well mixing dramatic intensity with Fierstein’s lighter touches.

It features two young men who were once in a relationship, went their separate ways, then got together again but this isn’t a tragedy about one catching AIDS and both living with the consequences. Rather this is about how a fear of the disease affects those living in its shadow and how sexual relationships are altered by the spectre of the deadly virus constantly hovering in the background.

The night of romance turns into a reminiscence about the carefree days of sexual encounters prior to the disease becoming widespread and how AIDS affected so radically the lives of those touched by it without having it. In those days, as the characters point out, “the worst you could get from loving somebody was a broken heart.”

For one, Ghee (a vulnerable Sam Neal, laying down the rules to prevent the transmission of AIDS, but revealing his own sense of inadequacy and needy nervousness), the desire for playing things safe and taking necessary precautions becomes more of an excuse to avoid intimacy, as years of repressed anger and hidden memories are unleashed. Neal manages to tackle Fierstein’s big speeches without ever once making them sound like the preaching of a lecture or a rant.

The other person in the relationship is Mead (George White blending tough love with a simmering sensuality), who has to spend most of the play being criticised about his perceived lack of cleanliness (“I’ve seen dogs fall in love with grass where you’ve walked barefoot” jests his partner).

In the trading of insults there is much to laugh at as well as a great deal to think about and the production captures the sense of hysteria which defined the lives and loves of a generation of gay men.

The original production used a giant see-saw as a set and in an odd decision director Jacob Trenerry, who otherwise succeeds in making the drama feel absolutely contemporary and relevant to today, sets the action on what is supposed to be a see-saw but is in fact a large white plank resting on two black boxes, with a flimsy piece of card (which fell off) representing the fulcrum. It’s disappointing as it means the emotional ups and downs aren’t reflected by the non-operating teeter-totter at all and things remain too static.

That said, the venue and encompassing festival are a perfect setting for a revival of this important play and the production allows the anger and fear about an epidemic to resonate in an era where anything goes.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

Click here to see all our reviews from VAULT Festival 2020

 

The Future is Mental

The Future is Mental

★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

The Future is Mental

The Future is Mental

Network Theatre

Reviewed – 20th February 2020

★★★

 

“there is much that is promising and ripe for development”

 

An anthology which uses the “Black Mirror” idea of exploring “the way we live now – and the way we might be living in ten minutes’ time if we’re clumsy” provides a bleak view of contemporary life at the VAULT Festival.

Rosie de Vekey draws heavily on the successful TV series for inspiration in “The Future Is Mental,” playing at the Network Theatre. The danger of this approach is that it veers towards unoriginality and some of the six short stories presented in this play will seem all too familiar to fans of the twisting Charlie Brooker television tales.

“The Future Is Mental” has a format similar to those classic portmanteau horror movies, where characters receive a grisly comeuppance as a sign of some crime or moral failing (an idea “Black Mirror” has itself attempted on a couple of occasions). The resolutions might not be quite so gruesome here, but all have some dark comment on aspects of modern life.

The most successful offering of the six is “Decluttering,” a short story featuring a woman (a ground-down Suzy de Lezameta) whose controlling, lying and belittling husband (a suitably unpleasant Owain Jones) – decides to tidy up at home, seeking some order in her life. She calls in a declutterer (Anie Hu) whose trademark is helping clients release all the burdensome weight from their shoulders and, while the outcome is hardly a tale of the unexpected, it is told with wit, compassion and a sense of justice.

The other strong piece is “The Other Side” in which two celebrity-seeking sisters (played with deliciously bitchy self-centredness by Kia Dickinson and Lara Lom) live out their lives in the public gaze via social media and a reality TV series. Empty-headed Cat (Dickinson) discovers she has an incurable disease; with a final cry of “Be more unicorn!” she continues to cling onto fame live from the afterlife in a story which gleefully pours scorn on contemporary vacuity.

Also in the mix is an all-too-short monologue from a scarily aware cloud-based smart device controller (“Alexa”) in which Lio Lylark gives voice to a piece of modern technology which is always listening. A longer soliloquy may give a more intriguing plot twist.

“Mood Lighting” is perhaps the most ambitious story with a real capacity for challenge in the area of mental health though is rather underwritten given the shortage of time. A gadget that reflects the emotions can be adapted so that it always shows positive colours – and “you can always pretend to be fine.”

The final story “Three Score and Ten” posits the idea of men only being allowed to live until the age of 70 (a “Logan’s Run” for seniors maybe) but loses direction with its speaker (Emma Byrne) oddly quoting from Scripture to make a point about what people use for political gain, though this doesn’t especially pick up the theme of the tale.

A framing device (“Best Possible Candidate”) of choosing a new Prime Minister in the style of a five-year game show runs out of steam, though Matthew Gill is a suitably flustered host.

A basic set with few props and some simple projection tend to make the whole look somewhat cheap though nobody is credited for any of this design.

With just an hour to play with “The Future Is Mental” struggles with making each of the plays as fully rounded as they might be. The result is a production that often comes across as a student revue of black comedy sketches rather than saying anything significant about many of the issues which others in the VAULT Festival are tackling much better, but there is much that is promising and ripe for development.

Reviewed by David Guest

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

Click here to see all our reviews from VAULT Festival 2020