Writer and Director: Tim McArthur
An Above The Stag production, Deeper and Deeper is the story of five gay men who randomly come to live in the same flat-share in the late 90s.
You have the flamboyant Paul, played by Stewart Briggs, brilliantly channelling his inner Kenneth Williams; the good-looking promiscuous one, Joe, appealingly played by Robert Hook, around which much of the story revolves; Louis, Hari Kanabar, a new-to-London Frenchman, who quite fits the part and gets about a bit himself; Simon, the wet behind the ears, Cornishman played for laughs by Scott Afton and an older, more jaded, butch tashed Scotsman, Andrew, convincingly played by Dickon Farmar.
As the first acts take shape it does feel rather uncomfortably stereotyped. Does the country bumpkin from the southwest have to be the sweet simpleton? The Scotsman not just alcohol-dependent but aggressive and bullying when drunk? Thankfully the ‘Allo ‘Allo! French accent when we first encounter Louis (Hari Kanabar) quickly softens out.
The play opens as Andrew is shown around the flat in 1997. Gay men being gay men, they fuck, accidentally spied on by Simon who has recently moved in himself, but when Paul arrives home we discover that Paul is Joe’s partner of two years and later that he owns the flat too. The dynamics of the relationships really kick off when, whilst out at the Black Cap in Camden, they bump into Louis, with whom Simon flirts but ultimately inevitably ends up in bed with Joe… let the intrigue begin. Gay men of a certain age will enjoy reminiscing to sung snippets of Regina Fong sketches and other clever references to 90s gay culture.
This is the journey of these characters over time, the years projected onto the large screen backdrop, which makes for easy scene changes with just furniture to be moved around to create the different spaces. We see how their friendship, love and challenges of living together develop and greatly alter over many years, first jumping by two or three years but then further so they look back and reflect on their youthful antics and the audience gets to see the changes in the characters over the years but more interestingly how these formative years have formed or scarred them.
We have a story of secrets, betrayal, hidden tensions, spite, anger and outright bullying. In fact, you could wonder why they continue living together or stay in touch when everything goes pear-shaped quite so quickly but then that would make a very dull play, which this certainly isn’t.
Paul has the best one-liners but all have quips and idiosyncrasies that get the audience quickly laughing throughout, though this is not merely a comedy, as the title suggests things get deeper and deeper in plot, characterization development and in machinations of the plot, sometimes turning quite dark.
There is a lot to offer here, and it’s nice to see that drugs and HIV are not pushed under the carpet as in so many other productions. After the interval, the characters look back and start to be more open, reveal and unravel their feelings. It is done in an insightful and thought-provoking way, making this a play certainly not just one for gay men of a certain age.
Runs until 7 October 2023