Writers & Directors: Thom Sellwood & Carrie Marx
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Log on to a gay app like Grindr or Scruff and you’ll come across numerous profiles containing the abbreviation ‘hnh’. The uninitiated may want to decode this as ‘hung and horny’ but, in fact, it stands for ‘high and horny’, with ‘high’ denoting drug use. There are many other euphemisms such as ‘chillin’’, ‘wired’ and ‘open-minded’. This dangerous mix of drugs and sex is known as chemsex, and this week’s Time Out suggested that one gay man in London dies every 12 days from engaging in this risky behaviour.
In recent years plays such as The Chemsex Monologues and films like Chemsex and G O’Clock have tried to confront the problem, but, so far, few musicals have taken on the challenge. After watching Happy, we should be thankful for small mercies.
One of the problems of giving the show the subtitle ‘a chemsex musical’ is that Happy is not really a musical and, moreover, is not really about chemsex. Instead, it charts an abusive relationship between two friends both dealing with addiction, Thom’s drug addiction and Carrie’s alcoholism. Another problem is the conceit that it is a work-in-progress, and that Carrie has just been roped in at the last minute after the original (‘handsome, 20-something-year old’) actor dropped out.
Towards the end of this 60-minute play, with its ‘unscripted’ exits and ‘improvised’ scenes, it does seem that we’re watching a sub-genre of The Play That Goes Wrong, or, with the drugs that Thom pretends to snort backstage, should that be The Line That Goes Wrong?
Happy, playing as part of the Queer Festival at the King’s Head Theatre, an ardent supporter of new LGBT+ writing, does toy with some difficult themes and even tries to extrapolate why some people are more predisposed to addiction than others. But in the end, it’s a ramshackle mix of songs influenced by musical theatre, and some clunky proselytising.
It would help if we had some empathy with Thom, but the character that Thom Sellwood plays is unlikable from the start, goading the audience into reluctant applause as soon as he’s walked on set. By the time the play enters darker material, and even though this chilling turn extends beyond the curtain call, we’ve ceased to care and, like Carrie, head happily for the exit.
Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Contributed