Fucking Men: A Review

I don’t often review the theatre I’ve seen but it feels correct to review this. I went to see Fucking Men at The Vaults this week after failing to see it during its run at the King’s Head Theatre in 2015. This was the same year that 5 Guy’s Chillin’ played and I was dying to see both for obvious reasons… WINK. Not that! I was just curious to see how the Grindr lifestyle got its treatment on stage… obviously.

I’ve been doing the hook-up thing for a couple of years in London and it’s become a big part of my sexual identity. I don’t hoof alloy wheel cleaner on the weekends with the top level of Deloitte, but I know my way around a meet shall we say. And while I’ve seen beaucoup gay cinema - trust and believe - it’s always interesting to see gay stories mapped out in theatrical terms, and it’s a big deal when they’re handled provocatively, sensitively and well, whatever the medium.

Okay okay, I can’t lie, I was also in it for the sex factor… and the boys didn’t disappoint, especially Haydn Whiteside (DAMNNN). The play, originally written by Joe DiPietro, rotates a series of hook-ups between different guys, in this case being played by three actors: Whiteside, Harper James and Richard De Lisle. The vignettes change so often I felt exhausted every time a guy had to strip off again, which is something I never thought would happen.

At first Fucking Men was a little too overt for me; a cruising turns violent when one guy tries to convince another guy that the blowjob he just received from him doesn’t mean he’s gay. Come on, we’ve all seen Clapham Junction: what’s the T in 2017? (That isn’t to say there aren’t homophobic pricks still out there of course). Cue several clumsy mentions of AIDs and some slightly dodgy accents – which provided entertaintment nonetheless – and I was starting to get high-school drama vibes. But as the play moved on, the actors almost seemed to get used to being in front of the audience. The performances never quite felt entirely even to me, but what verisimilitude the play lacked, humour was its secret weapon. Here’s some choices quotes from each of the boys, excellently delivered, I must say:

Fucking Men
Fucking Men
Fucking Men

Adapted from Teutonic turn-of-the-century play La RondeFucking Men does retain some of the didacticism manifest in its literary parent by asking one vital question throughout its 75 minute run: should gay men be monogamous? Of course that’s still a pertinent question with most gay men today using apps as well as traditional methods of cruising to have anonymous sex and attend those sexy parties you hear about from the Daily Mail. (Thanks Daily Mail).

Despite this, the play felt at times like it almost wanted to break away from its titular conceit and examine themes like loneliness and love more than nudity and sex. I think that's understandable because hooking up often can be a totally odd and yet wonderfully honest exchange between two (or three, or four) people. But sometimes it's not. Fucking Men wanted to attach emotional significance to each hook up and that’s not real. Often it felt like the reluctance of a character to leave another after sex just wasn't authentic. I did like the circling back to the beginning in the final scene of the play. John, an escort, describes how he met his now boyfriend in the park one night as a trick (the opening scene). But for the most part, each time a guy would beg his lover to stay, it made me cringe a little. It seemed that Fucking Men was questioning the relative merits of casual gay sex, which are apparently zilch. Funny for a play that literally advertises on Grindr.

I couldn’t help but have in mind DV8’s John when I watched Fucking Men, a more moving and immersive play about gay sex in saunas and abuse at home. It’s not quite John, nor is it the Warhol-esq performance art fuckfest I imagined it would be. But it is surprisingly funny and structurally sound. Some of the characters were certainly memorable: among them a chatty femme playwright in the mould of Alan Bennett, who was absolutely fabulous. And it does hit on some interesting truths about hooking up. Did I like it? Yes. Would I recommend? Yes. But you’ll have to wait until it re-opens!

Sam ClealComment