Writer: Paul Harvard
Director: Jon Pashley
A whole subgenre of theatre has been created around gay men and their relationship to drugs, especially the party drugs of recent years. The newest play on the subject, GHBoy, was running at the Charing Cross Theatre just before London’s December lockdown, but the crew were able to film the play in a single night, albeit to an empty auditorium. Apart from some very loud voices, projected for the stage rather than the camera, this is an excellent production, neatly edited and ably acted
The drugs fuelling the phenomenon of chemsex are a combination of GHB, ketamine and crystal meth, a combination that is also sometimes lethal. Some plays such as Christopher Adams’ Tumulus and Alexis Gregory’s Sex/Crime imply that society’s historical homophobia is to blame and that gay men have no choice but to internalise the hatred they have directed at them, and that risky drug-taking is a sign of self-hatred. Paul Harvard’s GHBoy takes a different approach and also offers a way out of such behaviour.
Robert is seeing a therapist for, presumably, his drug addiction, but he is surprised that he’s been assigned an art therapist who encourages him to draw and paint in their sessions. It seems that Robert is holding it together; since he met his new boyfriend Sergi from Catalonia, he’s tried to keep the drugs at bay. Not that he sees any future with Sergi; The Spanish boy is only 20, and at 35 Robert already feels old, even too old to go out clubbing to Heaven.
But when Sergi gets on one knee on Hampstead Heath to ask Robert to marry him, the older man is forced to reassess their situation. Of all the scenes in the play, this one is the best with Marc Bosch’s Sergi full of infectious idealism that only the young possess. As Robert, Jimmy Essex is consistently excellent and is present in every scene of this 90-minute play, and in the proposal scene adeptly shows a man full of self-delusion. ‘You’ll never regret this day’ he promises the Catalonian. Fatal words indeed.
Using Robert’s story, Harvard wants to focus on gay city life and he brings in many issues such as HIV, loneliness, white gay men’s fetishisation of black men, and even a serial killer, and yet under Jon Pashely’s direction GHBoy never seems rushed, or too busy with ideas. The only problem with the play is Jasminder who seems an unlikely friend for Robert. Brash and initially shallow, Aryana Ramkhalawon’s Jasminder perhaps is there to give comic relief in an otherwise dark play, but she just doesn’t seem real when compared to the other characters.
Nicola Sloane as Robert’s mother is refreshingly unclichéd and Sylvester Akinrolabu has to pull out quite a few different accents to play each one of Robert’s chemsex dates, and he does well to give individuality to each, even though the writing may not offer any depth to these men but which requires them be bare-chested. As the therapist, Devesh Kishore gives a warmth and understanding to a character we often see on stage, and the moment of analysand/ analyst transference is one of the key moments of the play.
It seems hard to believe that this polished production was filmed in only one night; each actor seems perfectly comfortable in front of the camera as they do on stage. As gay men continue to die across the world because of these drugs, it’s beneficial that GHBoy is now available to a wider audience through Vimeo.