Kings Head Theatre (London)
Until 28th Nov 2015
It’s quite an experience to go to the theatre and see there’s a queue for the male toilets but none for the female loos. Justice at last! The audience for ‘Five Guys Chilling’ was mostly male, I think I saw one or two ladies but even they seemed to ﬁnd it too much and popped out for a cigarette half way through.
I must admit my ignorance of verbatim theatre of which, though I’m aware of seminal texts such as the Laramie Project, I’ve seen very little. In fact as far as I can remember I’ve only seen one before this which was TransScripts at Edinburgh this year, so my ignorance of the form must be taken into account. In TransScripts the performers were in the space together but the quality of their interaction was changeable. When a performer was speaking, the others became props or extras in their life stories. And that’s what verbatim theatre is; it’s testimony of life experience.
What this play does is try to create a holistic experience by putting these verbatim testimonies into a dialogue in the setting of the experiences they are talking about. As a result you have ﬁve men at a chem-sex party whilst also testifying their experiences of chem-sex parties. It almost works. The atmosphere is heady and it’s difﬁcult not to be drawn into the excitement of a closed space with all the drugs and sex you can handle. As an audience member I feel like the sex was being sold to me in a slightly manipulative but not in an untrue way. One could imagine these characters both rhapsodising about their experiences and enjoying being watched. Implicit in that watching is a responsibility for seeing the less fun side of these things. There are hints and nods to some of the characters’ personal ﬂaws or damaged histories making them dive into a sex & drugs lifestyle head ﬁrst.
I’m still on the fence as to whether the form of this piece worked. The testimony cut up into each character preaching their experiences to the rest often just brought up the image of someone in a room with lots of text trying to ﬁt it together into a believable scenario. The bridging movement sections also felt a bit bolted on in order to transition because there was no natural transition there. I feel very conﬂicted about this show which means that I’m probably too conservative, too indoctrinated in my vanilla version of a homonormative lifestyle. Although the characters and audience of this play could be described as homonormative to a certain extent in that they wouldn’t look out of place, shirtless, on the streets of Vauxhaull on a Monday morning. What the bloody hell is homonormative? I don’t know to be honest.
My impression of these characters at the end of the show was that they were drawn to this fantasy island of sex & drugs but by the morning everybody had turned into proverbial donkeys as in the island in Pinocchio. They needed the drugs to allow them to express themselves sexually but then because of the drugs they end up with way more issues than they’d bargained for and an inability to actually enjoy the sex. Basically it’s like Train spotting except everybody is dry humping each other and nobody is climaxing.
Speaking of climaxes, this play does not have one, it is true to itself in that sense. The music dies, the lights go up and the characters are left in their own personal come-downs whilst the audience skulks out the back door and joins the queue for the loo.
© John Fitzpatrick 2015