Reviewed by Georgia Cassimatis
Highly confronting. These are my two words for this show about five gay men (John Michael Burdon, Tom Christophersen, Stevie Haimes, Will Reilly, Tim de Sousa), who meet up for a Chemsex party: where hard-core drugs are taken all night, and lots of orgiastic sex takes place. Which apparently was a tamer response to this play than those at the New Theatre who, according to the Director Patrick Howard, on receiving it as a play to assess and perform was met with a mix of ‘horror, grief, and confusion’ from his colleagues. Yet Howard managed to convince them that beyond the pure hedonism was fantastic theatre which balanced didactism with storytelling and humanity…and a story that needed to be told.
After seeing this performance, it does. Based on the real life stories from men the playwright found on the gay dating app Grindr, these hedonistic ‘Caligula’ style parties are ‘de rigour’ in the UK (not as rife in Australia), where terms such as Chillout (private sex parties with drugs such as Meth), Going Under (convulsing and passing out from drugs), and Slamming (using needles to inject drugs) are the everyday vernacular.
Sadly too are its consequences: with an epidemic rise in STDs, more gay men falling into addiction, and more incidents of Chemsex-related crime.
With this in mind, the show begins rather cleverly; the action is already taking place as we walk in; a great tactic for the audience to feel they are the ‘voyeurs’. Four highly promiscuous gay men are lounging around a non-descript living room snorting cocaine and smoking meth while watching Britney Spears videos. A fifth ‘random’ stranger turns up and both the drug use and the sex romps amp up.
For the next 75 minutes, the relentless, obsessive, explicit and graphic talk about sex (not for everyone), and the Chemsex scene, left me feeling a gamut of emotions; from pure disgust, judgement, queasiness, sadness, laughter and empathy. Interspersed in the hedonism were the more personal tales of the men and their foray down the Chemsex rabbit hole.
I found J’s (Tom Christopherson), PJ’s (Tim De Souza) and M’s (Stevie Haimes) quite telling. J’s life changed course with an early diagnosis of HIV, leaving him and others like him highly reckless as their fate has already been determined. PJ, a Pakistani, while not disclosing too much for the sake of the show, lives a ‘triple life’ that he is culturally relegated to, while M’s character laments the notion of a monogamous, loving relationship now lost. So ensconced is he in the Chemsex world, he is no longer emotionally, mentally or physically able to have one.
Reviewing this as a straight woman, I only know about Chemsex parties from the playwright Peter Darney’s, but one thing is for sure: it opens up for a lot of debate.
Queer Fringe is running at the New Theatre until September 22 nd .
For more information contact: www.newtheatre.org.au