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5 Guys Chillin’ review at King’s Head, London – ‘Hogarth-like verbatim drama’

Michael Matovski and Damien Hughes in 5 Guys Chillin' at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Kasia Burke Michael Matovski and Damien Hughes in 5 Guys Chillin' at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Kasia Burke
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Peter Darney’s verbatim play premiered at this year’s Brighton Festival and transfers to the late slot at London’s King’s Head as part of its ongoing LGBTQ season. Taken from interviews with a selection of gay men, Darney presents the results as conversation at a ‘chill-out session’ – gay parlance for group sex usually enhanced by a variety of chemicals.

The characters chat freely about their experiences, listing the etiquette, drug cocktails, casual racism and the hazards of gang rape and HIV infection with an addict’s fervour. At one low point, one cocksure addict – played with bravado by Elliot Hadley – even confesses to liking gonorrhoea’s discharge, as he says it acts as a natural lubricant.

Despite the 80 minutes of extremely frank sex talk, Darney’s production is a fairly tame affair, with flashes of very brief nudity and lots of groin-fumbling. The chit-chat is light-hearted – that’s how they do it up north, apparently – but the subject is inexorably bleak, all the more so for that it is verbatim. Even as one character collapses in what is presumably a drug-induced seizure, the party and play carries on.

After the tired and dated Fucking Men and the execrable I Went to a Fabulous Party earlier in the season, at least 5 Guys Chillin’ presents a contemporary dilemma. Darney’s Hogarth-like drama may raise awareness of a mounting problem in the gay community but elements of cheap titillation lessen the effect and verbatim may not be the best vehicle.

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For those who can stomach it, an enlightening piece of verbatim theatre with all the imagery of a particularly gruesome Hogarth etching