FringeReview UK 2023
A laugh-out-serious play, with its own implicit, and explicit heartbreaks. There’s a quiet backbeat of desperation too, but incurable thirst for living wisely and well.
With one-liners and wit in nearly every exchange, it’s a beautifully-scripted, scream-out affirmation of love, lust, loss and forever’s time being. And built to last.
Writer and Director Adam Zane, Producer Mike Lee, Set Design Dick Longdin, Lighting Design David Clare, Sound Design Matt Gill, CSM Flick Gourley, Photography Dawn Kilner
Till November 4th
Manchester, 2022, and five into four doesn’t quite go. Three friends, thruppling up on one bed, and there’s a fourth hot man introduced. Then when yet another hottie arrives, there’s four Jock Nights (June, August, October, December) where the shock-wave have to work this out. And the geometry’s skew. Adam Zane has written and directs Jock Night at Seven Dials Playhouse, Hive North’s production transferred from Manchester.
Zane’s known for verbatim theatre amongst other things, and though this is a brilliantly-written, witty and constructed play, the situations are composites of real events.
Originally conceived as a theatrical soap opera, the drama’s designed round Jock Nights which include Pride and just possibly World AIDS Day (December 1st). Non-judgmental parties with obligatory Jock gear, they’re an exuberant affirmation where anything goes. Including MKat and G – chemsex, its highs and lows are a major thread.
As importantly there’s a message. The lack of universal availability of PrEP, a drug proven to stop people even being infected with HIV, is a just cause of fury. That’s stranded in with all the jokes. Oh and there is some nudity, and lots and lots of sex.
Mind you, AJ’s too young to get Victoria Wood, Two Soups or hostess trollies the sort of thing some got from their mothers as folk memory. Corrie though, that’s sacred. We can never escape it, let alone Ken Barlow or that tram catastrophe. And don’t you love a play where Alexa’s a character to fight over.
With searing torch-songs in Matt Gill’s sound design, steady bedroom (and Alexa) lighting from David Clare in Dick Longdin’s lush bedroom single-set, we’re riveted to the actors. Nothing distracts in this realist set.
We’re at the flat of ‘daddy’ Ben (David Paisley) with fuckbuddy couple who deny they’re a couple: sarky Corrie-loving Kam (Sam Goodchild) and less-quick-but-Hufflepuff-admiring Russell (Matthew Gent) who doesn’t quite remember J K Rowling isn’t a thing any more.
Paisley’s thoughtful, layered performance moves through hedonistic coupling and tripling to meditative passages with a flicker of Chekhov in them. Gent’s heartwarming and enjoys a great moment at the end, where instead of being the butt of jokes he’s the last to get, he soars into emotional intelligence and an eloquence torn from him. Payne’s appealing in his own odyssey to adulthood and acknowledging the wisdom of experience.
Hughes’ destabilised Simon is both charming and alarming, Hughes able to show the wild vector of his moods with exuberant riffs, and yet a sweet core. He and Goodchild vie in the raunchiest filthiest jokes. But Goodchild’s elegant running gags, his self-defensive dismissals and his own dark heedlessness render his awareness almost a self-mockingly tragedy.
There’s more important shibboleths and kid zones though. So when older-man-loving and naive AJ (Levi Payne) turns up and asks Kam after a session if he’s “clean” all outrage descends. “Untraceable” is the word Kam uses for himself, and AJ hasn’t even bothered to get tests. Ben likes AJ, who beats a shamed retreat but he’s not gone forever. He can learn too.
That’s more than Kam wants to, perpetually ducking commitment with Russell who has to pretend he doesn’t care. When dependable Ben falls for “porn performer not porn star” Simon or “Hunter” in short films (George Hughes) the symmetry’s a bit skewed. Simon’s immature, despite his media exposure, somewhat unstable, prone to lapse into drug abuse and uncontrolled drinking.
Each night progresses the subtle, sometimes drastic re-alignments, with the crisis in October. Zane’s finest writing and most intimate conversations in an evening of Turgenev-like duetting comes with the two antagonists: Kam’s never taken to Simon, he’s thinks he’s dangerous: yet a moment of honesty and shares background leads somewhere. There’s no question of shock betrayal. All’s fair. But people’s vulnerabilities once exposed can lead to escalated health warnings and worse. Even if lighter episodes – Russell’s penis caught in a cock-ring might even lead to self-amputation if Gay’s Anatomy on google can’t fix it.
The denouement finds a very different world. This is a laugh-out-serious play, with its own implicit, and explicit heartbreaks. There’s a quiet backbeat of desperation too, but incurable thirst for living wisely and well. Ben claims “with being gay it can’t last forever” (as if any sexuality can), but he at least knows it is enough. With one-liners and wit in nearly every exchange, it’s a beautifully-scripted, scream-out affirmation of love, lust, loss and forever’s time being. And built to last.