Writer: Joe DiPietro
Director: Mark Barford
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Like some of the men in this play, F*cking Men has been around the block a few times. Written in 2008, Joe DiPietro’s play was first seen at The King’s Head Theatre in 2015, and has been doing the rounds ever since. This newest production, coming in at about 70 minutes, is half an hour shorter than the original, perhaps allowing its audience to get back to their Tinder and Grindr apps more quickly. But after seeing this show Grindr hook-ups may not seem so appetizing.
The King’s Head Theatre, as recently noted by The Evening Standard, is one of the best places in London to see LGBTQ+ plays, and by looking at its programing it’s easy to see why, and there’s a refreshing emphasis on new writing. Each year the theatre holds a queer season and two of its successes of last year were Consumables and Gypsy Queen, both hits at this year’s Vault Festival. So with this emphasis on new work is it quite right that F*cking Men should be revived for what seems the umpteenth time?
After tonight’s performance, the answer is a resounding yes. F*cking Men still has plenty to say in its examination of how gay –and bi – men negotiate sex and relationships. Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s notorious play of 1897 La Ronde, DiPietro’s play consists of interlocking scenes, which trace various sexual liaisons between two men. Included in these couples are an escort and a closeted soldier, a university student and his private tutor, and a movie star and a playwright. Within these brief encounters, we can see what one character calls ‘the empty existence of the urban gay man.’ Sex may be fun, but the play cleverly shows what else is at stake in this desire to connect: we see the power that comes with age and wealth, the loneliness that springs from hidden lives, and the boredom that is inherent in monogamy.
But despite its underlying pessimism, the play is often very funny, and the three actors handle the multiple roles skilfully. Richard De Lisle, who has been with the show since its debut in 2015, fully embodies each of his roles creating very believable men. He brings an Ortonesque charm to the playwright who, in a successful metanarrative twist, has written a play, currently running in the fringe, about men having sex. He is ably supported by Liam Darby, jittery as a soldier, urbane as Hollywood actor, and touchingly meek as a husband. They are joined by August Ohlsson who is making his professional debut. Despite a few dodgy accents, Ohlsson, playing the younger roles, is impressive in conveying a sense of hope for the future that the older characters seem to have abandoned.
The play has been updated slightly with references to people such as Meghan Markle, but for this play to be really current there should be some discussion of more recent advances in sexual health. For instance, two of the characters are HIV+, but there is no mention of the fact that if HIV+ people stick to their antiretroviral regimes, then the chances of them infecting anyone are virtually zero. And in line with these medical successes, surely the two sex workers in F*cking Men would be on PrEP, drugs that again prevent the contraction of the HIV virus. With these updates, the play would gain an urgency that it slightly lacks. That is how we lived our lives a few years ago, but how do we live now and f*ck now?
Runs until 2 June 2018 | Image: Nicholas Brittain