Generation Games – White Bear Theatre, London

Reviewer: Alex Vella Bartholomew

Writers: Michael McManus and Charlie Ross Mackenzie

Directors: Bryan Hodgson and Edward Applewhite

Two one-act comedy dramas explore the experiences of queer men across two generations. In A certain term, the purpose is clear; we are presented with two queer men who have different relationships with their sexuality and different ways of presenting themselves. Graham, the older ‘queen’ appears bitter and cold, having given up on love. Young Joe presents himself as liberated. He’s out and proud; why does Graham have to be so negative? Neither is wrong, neither is not wrong; they have experienced different worlds and different challenges.

Graham, played by Luke McBride, and Joe, played by Simon Stallard, condescend each other; they think the other doesn’t get it, with ‘it’ being different according to each of them. The play calls on the judgements and tensions between two generations of queer. This lack of understanding is digestibly represented by the lack of shared cultural references, resulting in a comical moment when they stumble across one in common; Thelma and Louise.

You get the feeling the play was written in sympathy of Graham’s perspective, with Joe there to aid his point of view. The younger generation is sometimes simplistically represented as a cliché. “I don’t like labels”; “it’s not a gay bar, it’s a bar” being easy examples.

Having said that, there is clear empathy for Joe’s experiences via the third character, Robert, played by Joe Ashman, who bridges the gap between younger and older. There is a good connection between all three characters, each of them enjoyable to watch. The premise of the play is shaky but fun. Graham is getting ready for a party, laying out the crisps, forgetting the wine, exclaiming “Do the hedgehog!” to a bewildered Joe.

Despite A certain term feeling a bit tired (the older generation telling the younger generation how lucky they are is not exactly original), there is a lot of wonderful in this play. It is full of warmth, character, and life. Everyone in the audience – young, old, and in-between – share something; a big smile.

As a stark contrast to the colourful, camp, ‘retro’ set of A certain term, we now find ourselves in an Airbnb’s blank bedroom canvas for the second play, I f__n’ love you, written by Charlie Ross Mackenzie. Think monochrome city-scraper bed covers. The sets seamlessly work for both plays, as designed by Philip Normal. We are again presented with two generations, this time boyfriend and boyfriend. Leaning into the ‘a face for radio’ joke, we have the younger, good-looking TV presenter, Simon, played by Joe Ashman and the older radio presenter, Adrian, played by Mackenzie. It’s one of those nights where sleep isn’t on the cards, and winding late-night chats ensue.

There doesn’t appear to be a real purpose for the play and the discussions are quite mundane, but these mundane moments are often the ones that matter, and that make you love someone more. From the perspective of queer love, the fact that it is mundane is to be celebrated. The relationship is a slightly dysfunctional set-up, but it works. As Adrian trips over Simon’s dumbbell weight, “Why do you have this?! You don’t even use it!”.

There are a number of worn political one-liners (Bojo is an easy dig), and original ones too. The comedy comes across as old-school at times, with essences of Carry On. “Why don’t you care about who’s texting me at this time of night?”; “Why don’t you know what I drink?”. The fact that the younger boyfriend Simon drinks a “semi-hot hazelnut latte with an extra shot of chi and foam” pokes some fun at ‘young people’. You can feel that an older voice is writing an impression of a younger voice; Simon is a bit whiny and immature.

There are several arguments, which don’t feel hugely potent, but serve to give us a charming insight into love, vulnerability, and the trauma that Simon and Adrian carry. There are heart-warming moments between the two characters who come from different generations, classes and upbringings.

Despite being slightly contrived and best suited for a crowd aged 30 plus, the audience is fully on board, happy to spend time basking in the intimacy of these characters, laughing along to their back-and-forth, give-and-get dynamic. The two one-act comedy dramas complement each other and make for an easily enjoyable evening.

Runs until 22 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

love and laughter

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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