Writer: Tom Wright
Director: Rikki Beadle Blair
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Hot on the heels of their collaboration on Park Theatre’s My Dad’s Gap Year, writer Tom Wright and director Rikki Beadle-Blair once again work together on Undetectable, at the King’s Head.
Freddie Hogan and Lewis Brown play Lex and Bradley, a gay couple in their late twenties who, after three months of non-sexual cuddling, might be heading for their first night of sex together.
As Hogan’s personal trainer Lex tries to get more intimate with Brown’s Bradley, the latter’s insecurities force the pair to confront each partner’s demons. Wright’s script darts around some interesting questions about the role medication has played in serodiscordant relationships. The increasing quality of HIV medication has meant men with a positive diagnosis can live with undetectable viral loads in their bloodstream, and the increasing availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs means that men who know they are negative can remain so.
Wright is adept at suggesting that only the medical aspects of the pre-sex negotiations are clear, and that reconciling one’s inner thoughts about condom-free sex may not be so straightforward. But where his theme promises much in originality when it comes to this under-explored aspect of gay men’s sexual health, the quality of Wright’s dialogue does have a tendency to peter out. Director and designer Beadle-Blair does his best to maintain interest, having the two actors leap in and out of both the high-stilted bed and their clothes.
But one can feel this early theme of the piece running out of steam quite quickly. Wright maybe feels the same, for we then jump into prolonged flashbacks in an attempt to explain each character’s neuroses: for Bradley, it is a descent into the chemsex world, flitting from sex party to drug-fuelled sex party, used and abused to a point where life itself is devalued. For Lex, a closeted life at university where a rejection of public affection has devastating consequences.
Much as Beadle-Blair does his best to keep these re-enactments thematically and visually related, Undetectable can’t help but feel as if it’s trying to shoehorn in as many dramatic themes as a play about two young gay men could possibly contain. Despite engaging characterisations from both Hogan and Brown, Wright’s scattergun approach ultimately prevents any of his themes from fulfilling their true potential.
With so much pressure on it to perform, it is perhaps to nobody’s surprise that it is not quite able to deliver. That, at least, is a lesson for the bedroom that one can take away from this.
Continues until April 6. | Image: Nick Rutter