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The Gay Naked Play – Above The Stag, London

Writer: David Bell

Director: Andrew Beckett

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

Gay Naked Play - Above the Stag, LondonFirst things first, if you’re looking for a play littered with naked flesh and homoerotic lustings, this isn’t it. The Gay Naked Play is, instead, a comedic look at the battle between artistic credibility and commercial success.

Set in New York, The Integrity Players, a small theatrical troupe, strive to bring back real emotional engagement and artistic integrity back to the theatre scene. They focus their productions on rare 17th and 18th century texts and present them to an ever dwindling and disengaged audience. It comes as little surprise to realise that money is hard to come by and The Integrity Players are close to the end. All they have is a great mid-town theatre, but without money, that will be gone soon, too.

Across town, a theatrical production trio are having a very different problem. Their gay and naked themed productions have made them the most successful gay theatre team in New York but they’ve run out of venues to put on their shows. A very simple set up; venue with out money meets no venue with lots of money – but ‘venue with no money’ has one hindrance; their artistic integrity. Will The Integrity Players collaborate in producing a vacuous, artistically redundant show just to earn money?

David Bell has written a wonderfully paced and very funny satire on the conflicts between art and money. It’s not bogged down with the weightier discussions that this conflict can take, nor the nuances of where art can make money, but paints a monochrome ‘art or money’ scenario. It would be very easy to scoff at this approach and try and list all the financially successful endeavours with artistic integrity, but that would be missing the point.

The cast in the main are great seemingly relishing their respective rôles, but it’s Chris Woodley as Eddie Russini (head of the gay theatre team) and Ellen Vereniekis as Mrs Anderson (financial backer to the Integrity Players) who steal the show. Woodley’s over-the-top camp director of the gay troupe is beautifully matched by Vereniekis’ gentrified English schemer and both deliver wonderfully exuberant performances.

The show, however, is not without flaws. T.Scott and Edonis, played enthusiastically by Robert Hannouch and Toby Joyce, are two-dimensional caricatures of fawinging gay stereotypes and, while funny, their inability to behave appropriately in certain circumstances does frustrate. Additionally, there’s a hole or two in the story – most notably, the fact that the most successful gay theatre team in New York are unable to fund a gay porn star for two weeks of rehearsal time. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise funny and entertaining production.

As mentioned, the show is very light on nudity. Though there’s bearing of flesh, its no more than you’d see on a beach in the summer. But there is an adult tone to the show. There is some strong language and a number of sexual references.

The biggest problems with this play are its name and marketing. Unfortunately, combined, they will likely put off many a potential viewer and disappoint a number of actual viewers. And that’s a real shame as this is a wonderful production of a well written, acted and directed play that deserves to be seen and enjoyed but a much wider and less ‘expectant’ audience.

Photo: Derek Drescher |Runs until 16th February

Writer: David Bell Director: Andrew Beckett Reviewer: Sonny Waheed First things first, if you’re looking for a play littered with naked flesh and homoerotic lustings, this isn’t it. The Gay Naked Play is, instead, a comedic look at the battle between artistic credibility and commercial success. Set in New York, The Integrity Players, a small theatrical troupe, strive to bring back real emotional engagement and artistic integrity back to the theatre scene. They focus their productions on rare 17th and 18th century texts and present them to an ever dwindling and disengaged audience. It comes as little surprise to realise…

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