Thursday, August 18, 2016
5 Guys Chillin' (C Too, Edinburgh Fringe)
I don't usually begin reviews with "I", but in the case of 5 Guys Chillin', I'm going to bend the rules. Because it's virtually impossible to write about the play without referring to your own, deep-seated reaction to it.
5 Guys Chillin' is less of a play and more of an experience. Pieced together by Peter Darney from more than 50 hours of interviews with men found through Grindr and other apps, it is a verbatim drama which pulls absolutely no punches in its depiction of the chem-sex subculture. It is immersion without interaction, for the audience is very definitely there "in the room". The fourth wall has never been built, and the first, second and third walls were demolished before you even stepped foot inside.
It takes place in one flat where a chem-sex party takes place among five gay men. They strip to their pants and indulge in all manner of debauched activities involving sex and drugs, and gradually get wilder, looser and more hedonistic. It's like being at a real-life sex party, as it plays out in real time before you, with real words spoken by real people about the terribly real things they've done.
This is not for the easily offended. It's not for the faint of heart. You see and hear it all, silent witnesses to a progression of uncompromising activities. In no way is this titillating, and by the end the audience might feel pretty shell-shocked.
Personally, I felt almost emotionally violated by the show. You are confronted with some pretty unique images and ideas, experiences which you might never dream up in your darkest, seediest of moments. And it is the inexorable plummet toward the climax which makes you feel slightly nauseous. It is unsettling in its extremity and all the more disturbing because it's all true. This stuff happens.
The play addresses sex, sexuality, addiction, racism, self-loathing, sexually transmitted disease and the nature of relationships within this principally London-centric gay subculture. You come out of it certainly feeling enlightened, perhaps entertained, but it would be strange to say you enjoyed 5 Guys Chillin' in the purest sense of the word. It's not to be enjoyed; it's to be experienced, processed, discussed.
I walked home overhearing audience reaction to the play and it was nothing if not controversial. Some were angry that it was yet another play that depicted the dark side of homosexuality ("Why can't a play glorify homosexuality for once? Show how great it can be?"). Others were shocked that such things went on and were determined never to get involved in such activities. One gay couple I heard arguing over the issue of monogamy. 5 Guys Chillin' had done its job.
On the evening I went along, it had been a very warm day and the venue had no air-con and was not ventilated. The temperature was at a ridiculously high level - my phone told me 30 degrees when I left - and the seating arrangement was such that we were crunched together awkwardly. It was hot, it was uncomfortable, and we were watching actors simulate sex and drug-taking in an unapologetically confrontational fashion. After a while the intoxicating nausea of the chem-sex party we were watching began to addle our own brains. I saw several people in the row in front of me desperately weighing up whether to walk out or not (presumably due to the Gobi-like heat), and when the performance ended, the rush for the door was all too telling.
People were ready to leave, that was clear. They were uncomfortable. Perhaps it wasn't what they expected, perhaps they were just feeling a little warm. But whatever the truth, the power of the drama they saw that night would stay with them, haunt them, make them think. The very best theatre makes the audience think, provokes a reaction deep within you, and 5 Guys Chillin' does all of that. You cannot see it without having a visceral personal reaction to it. It lingers, it stains and it's phenomenally powerful stuff.
Writer and director: Peter Darney
Cast: Matthew Bunn, Adi Chugh, Elliot Hadley, Michael Matovski, Cesare Scarpone
Performed at C Too, Edinburgh, August 4th to 29th, 2016. Performance reviewed: August 15th, 2016
5 Guys Chillin' trailer (retrieved Aug 18 2016)