FUCKING MEN is very high on the fun-o-meter but it also registered strongly on the emot-atron. It is a Fairground of shifting dynamics about, but not just for, a certain population of gay males. If it wasn’t, I might be reduced to discussing the lack of a queue at the women’s toilets … we were outnumbered 20 to 1. Or giving an insight into men’s underwear, of which there is a lot, expounding the virtues of the pianist’s jacket or discussing socks.
There is some interesting historical information about Joe Dipietro‘s play in the Director’s Notes from Mark G Nagle but in 2018, when sex lives are less than closeted, the emphasis cannot be in the shock of display. Though there are show ponies here, the men who dovetail the 10 hookups of FUCKING MEN have a depth of existence as fleetingly shared as it might be. We meet the Escort who meets the Soldier who meets the Tutor who meets …. each encounter revealing but brief.
Bringing me back to the underwear, pure intellectual curiosity on my part. The sparkly jacket, I do like a sparkle hitting a black wall, and the socks. Now if my male friends aren’t leading me on, socks have porn symbolism and I wouldn’t be surprised if Nagle was being his usual allusionary director self.
There are allusions all over this production from the tango seduction of the opening scene which elided into a change of partners with a zithery German waltz under, on through circles of bed linen and round pools of light, to the final power of filling a stage with beautiful men who are strong, proud and sated in the moment.
Contrary to the inference in the name of the play, the sex is unseen. But it is not hidden. In a fast blackout, the next character we will meet pops out in the dark to distract with a preview of his interaction with one of the current participants. Me being me, I stalked, eavesdropped then voxpopped a few of the audience as we meandered up to the train station. One young man told me he had been dragged to the show by mates because he thought it would be gratuitous. In the event he loved it, because, like I did, he appreciated the realism without the look away factor.
Geez they are fast though … really fast. Mostly, they get up, wipe their mouths, clothe and piss off. Zero cuddling really and yet we learn so much about them. That is due more to the terrific actors than the text. Though the previously mentioned pop-in does a lot to quickly define the person before they appear, each of these roles could be a stereotype trap for a lesser cast and director.
Here, each cast member brings on a fully formed character and then we are free to enjoy his iteration. There are mysteries, there are obfuscations and lies, there is violence near the surface, all to be observed and enjoyed. For example, it would be easy for Michael Brindley to lazily drop his sarcastic Student into cliched bitchiness but he endows his lines with casual indifference and throws them with style. The cast Jackson Blair-West, Stanley Browning, John Michael Burdon, Anthony Finch, Ray Mainsbridge, Tom Marwick, Nick Pes, Anton Smilek, and Pete Walters are all terrific and we respond to them in a very human way.
There is the titter of recognition very early on and after that we laugh together or apart at all sorts of echoes of those we know… or are. One really funny scene has us smiling broadly at monogamy tropes, hissy fits, terrible metaphors… and lesbian bed death in blokes. And there is one particular line which, when repeated gets a collective head shake and derisive group sigh every time. Most clearly indicative of the audience’s engagement is one desperately heartbreaking line that bonds us all in judgement of the indefensible.
There is also live music with original songs from Matthew Raven and his is the light touch, often with single notes or just the poetry of a spoken lyric, which opens the show with the scent of the profane “enjoy all the naked men” and closes Act 1 with a poignant, echo of wistfulness.
FUCKING MEN is not a deep and meaningful examination of gay men’s lives. Like another man I was chatting to trainbound, I really hope that people who see the show understand that the gay community is less like this carousel of sexual activity and circles within wheels and more like a Venn Diagram of growth and change. But maths is boring and FUCKING MEN is not … apparently.