Edinburgh Fringe 2016
After smash-hit, sell-out runs in London, F*cking Men arrives in Edinburgh for the very first time. Do guys only want one thing? And how far will they go to get it? This frank, funny and full-frontal play takes the search for sexual satisfaction to the next level, laying bare the love lives of 10 men as they navigate relationships, infidelity and heartbreak.
This show is basically about Gay men. It covers all the traditional stuff. Closeted homosexuality, Grindr sex on tap, HIV, rent boys, porn and so on. But actually, and what makes this show outstanding, is that it starts to dig far deeper into these familiar topics, shaking the certainties we may have once had, uncovering layers of our own preconceptions and offering a fresh look at an old story. Even more refreshing is that many of the human themes explored here are actually, relevant and tangible to both men and women and non-specific gendered people. Because these core issues are about love and connection and the things we all do out of fear. With reference to EM Forster we explored through 10 characters and many intense scenes of fucking and shouting and loving and connecting and shame and humiliation and fear and confusion – that it all came down to our longing to Only Connect. That this pursuit for relationship, for sex, for something unknown and forbidden, for something safe and familiar, for something indescribable and ethereal, and yet so base and primal, was all about the human longing for connection. And this is a beautiful thing. Whether this is an anonymous connection in a men’s sauna or a late night cuddle and chat about tomorrows shopping list between an old married couple, the intention is still golden.
But as the stories start to unfold, we see that there is a tiredness and pain to the more immediate forms of gratification, of connection. The exciting and no strings attached sex starts to lose its glitter and become tedious and dark. The young porn star longs for his cosy love to cuddle up with, eyes sparkling as he talks with joy about how wonderful it would be to connect with someone and only them, for that connection to be precious and unique unsullied by anyone else. He checks his phone for the 100th time to see if his lover is coming back tonight. He turns away the offer for sex from a new friend, he only wants his love. His sadness and gentle heart is bitter-sweet.
And so we reflect back on Only Connect.
Perhaps we need an addendum to this.
Only connect but with integrity
Only connect but with gentleness
Only connect but with honesty
Only connect but with safety
Only connect but with care
This play reveals the heartbreak and loneliness of many men, and not unique to this gender for sure, but also shows how unkind, actually how brutal men can be to each other. I mused on whether this was inevitable or whether this was a result of our culture that is still only relatively recently accepting homosexuality. Indeed, as the very moving scene between closeted TV presenter and young escort reveals, there are many relationships still hidden out of shame and that despite massive moves towards acceptance and equality, gay men loving each other still isn’t always good PR. Perhaps the issues in gay relationships overlaps with how men in our society are raised, not to cry, to ‘man up’, to be successful, to take charge, to not show weakness, and perhaps this combined with repression, sexual confusion and cultural shame makes a fatal combination, bringing out violence from men both physically and emotionally to each other. In many scenes gay sex seems aggressive, predatory, careless, perfunctorily, anonymous…but I wonder how much we have our society to thank rather than the easy brushing off that we give men, ‘”it’s just their genetic make-up…they are born more aggressive and sexually predatory”. A revealing line in the show…”We’re Gay…not monogamous”..
I had to keep reminding myself that these ten characters were played only by 3 actors Haydn Whiteside, Harper James and Richard de Lisle. As they skilfully flowed in and out of each scene, with a separate monologue that repeats in a following duologue (it makes sense when you see it and works brilliantly), our attention is brought into the lives of these various characters with incredible vividity and poignancy. Cleanly and clearly directed Mark Barford has steered a professional, daring, sobering, very funny at times, very moving show that the audience enjoyed immensely. Tears were wiped, heads were nodded and laughter exploded in recognition at the familiar and intimate scenes playing out before us. The writing (Joe DiPietro) was superb and the actors, all talented and highly watchable, lifted the heart of this production as they worked seamlessly together through complex scenes to reveal emotionally loaded connections.