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“Mesmerising in its intensity”

Robert Chesley’s play Jerker has always been controversial. When it premiered in 1986 in Los Angeles, scenes that were performed on the radio were ruled obscene forcing a change in the broadcasting censorship laws. The UK premiere at the Gate Theatre in 1990 directed by Stephen Daldry, also shocked the theatre-going public. Subtitled ‘A Pornographic Elegy,’ it’s easy to understand how unsettling this play must have seemed – and it has lost little of its power.

Jerker was an educational play, highlighting the devastation caused by the Aids epidemic and presenting the changes to sexual behaviour adopted by those who were fearful of physical connection.

Ben Anderson’s revival is mesmerising in its intensity, shifting subtly from full-on erotic fantasy to tentative friendship to intense loss in a series of 20 phone calls between two men.

Bert (Tibu Fortes) and JR (Tom Joyner) have enjoyed active and promiscuous sex lives in San Francisco throughout the 1970s. JR has never introduced himself to Bert, but he has worshipped him from afar and he instigates the phone-sex sessions until, one day, Bert no longer picks up.

Intimacy directors Enric Ortuno and Yarit Dor construct a wholly convincing physical connection between Fortes and Joyner that never once seems forced or unnatural. Their performances are playful and erotic but ultimately a fantasy, showing, as Aids took its toll on the city, how the freedom of sexual identity was restricted and emotional and physical isolation were imposed. Chesley’s play may once have shocked but today it promotes pride in gay identity and, most importantly, an honesty about sex.

Related to this Review

World's EndWorld's End

Production Details
Production nameJerker
VenueKing's Head Theatre
StartsOctober 30, 2019
EndsNovember 23, 2019
Running time1hr
AuthorRobert Chesley
DirectorBen Anderson, Enric Ortuno, Yarit Dor
Set designerLee Newby
Lighting designerClancy Flynn
Sound designerTingying Dong
CastTibu Fortes, Tom Joyner
Stage managerAlly Southern
ProducerDevere Productions, King's Head Theatre, Making Productions
VerdictDelicately handled celebration of gay identity and the importance of sexual honesty
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Paul Vale

Paul Vale

Paul Vale

Paul Vale

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