Review by Daz Gale
As far as eye-catching titles are concerned, none stand to attention quite as much as F**king Men. A phrase many of us may have exclaimed following a particularly bad interaction with anyone of the male persuasion, this is actually the name of a show currently nestled into the hidden gem that is the 100 seater Waterloo East Theatre. Would this be a show I’d want to see again or would it be best left as a one night stand?
A retelling on Schnitlzer’s La Ronde, F**king Men premiered in London in 2009, it has been revived several times and now returns for a limited run with a script updated for 2023. The premise of the show follows 10 men (played by a cast of four) through a series of encounters with each other, all of which are on the sexual side. Rooting deep into perceptions of gay men, it is a graphic and often explicit exploration that might shock some audience members who prefer to see cast members clothed.
Written by Joe DiPietro, whose previous credits include the truly incredible Memphis and, erm… Diana, F**king Men is a consistently exceptional piece of writing. The underlying theme throughout the whole story is connection and this is harked back to consistently as what may on the surface appear as standalone, unconnected stories have a way of coming full circle as one character takes one interaction and moves on to the next. The intricate nature of these woven stories is brilliantly signposted with moments characters not directly involved in the current coupling appear in the background saying a seemingly unassociated bit of dialogue – which then, of course, makes sense very soon after. It’s this level of care and detail that makes the whole play fascinating to watch.
The way the writing examines perceptions and stereotypes in relation to gay men both in the media and the community itself manages to be refreshing and challenging. Bisexuality, the choice not to be monogamous in a relationship, HIV, porn and sex work are among the topics raised throughout the course of the play with attitudes that are thankfully positive and open minded. I can’t think of another example of when subjects such as these were broached in the theatre in such a considered way. This allows a lot of depth to the topics, challenging peoples perceptions and preconceived notions of the subjects at hand.
The graphic language use of nudity and sex scenes all serves a purpose and is done tastefully. Lee Crowleys movement and intimacy direction carefully navigates this in a way that never feels coarse even during the seemingly most meaningless of hook-ups. Similarly, Steven Kunis’ uses a fairly small space and makes it burst with life in a beautifully executed direction. Cara Evans set design creates a divide thanks to a screen which in itself allows a use of reflections and reveals as characters come in and out of the spotlight, with Alex Lewers lighting marvellous in its design.
The ten different characters are played by a cast of four. Not explicitly named in the programme, we get some of their names during the course of the play but otherwise are left fairly mysterious. Each of the four interacts with the other characters who all play a different role in each of their lives. This ever-changing dynamic creates an enormous versatility which leads itself to an exciting and unpredictable ride from one scene to the other. The chemistry this cast of four have with each other cannot be understated, especially given how intimate a large portion of the scenes are.
Charlie Condou is less prominent in the first part of the play but makes his presence felt later on both as a nervous older gentleman and a truly emotional final portion as we discover a character with a tragic past who finds a way to connect to someone new and bring the whole play full circle. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge delivers a consistently gripping performance in his variety of characters – two of which sees him struggle to accept his own sexuality in very different ways, signifying the difficulties coming out still can have in todays society and the prejudices that can occur from this.
Alex Britt is a huge standout throughout as two very different characters showing the innocence of youth and the longing to be loved. His arc through both of these characters shows a well-rounded character who constantly surprises and is immediately loveable. A testament to both the writing and Alex’s acting, he leaves everything on the stage. The cast is completed by Derek Mitchell with one character in particular completely scene-stealing. That is his over the top playwright who threatens to break the fourth wall as he speaks about the play being based on his life. Full of brilliant one-liners (“My artistic ambition is to be cancelled” and “If Joan Crawford couldn’t play it, I wouldn’t write it” being two of the best) and exaggerated mannerisms, Derek is a total delight bringing plenty of nuance to a character that could in other hands be a throwaway comedic part.
I didn’t know what to expect with F**king Men. The shows title, the promo image and the production photos suggest a show that doesn’t hold much depth. I read into it completely wrong – the nudity in the show represents a topic laid completely bare, stripped to its soul to take a long hard look into preconceptions and attitudes many of us may have. As a gay man myself, I recognised myself in some of the situations with several of the conversations and topics at hand replicated throughout my life. In that respect, Joe DiPetrio has written something completely accessible and relatable. Not only that, it is thought-provoking and incredibly progressive. Beautifully raw and intimate, F**king Men is a show that promises to be more memorable than the last hook up you ghosted.
With truly phenomenal writing and outstanding performances from a sensational cast, this is a show that didn’t put a foot wrong. Poking into the relationships between love and sex, F**king Men is a show whose main theme is about connection. The way it manages to connect to the audience effortlessly transcending the connections the characters have with each other is miraculous and is an example of theatre at its very best. Refreshing, surprising and simply beautiful – f**k me, it’s fantastic.
F**king Men plays at Waterloo East Theatre until 18th June. Tickets from https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk
Photos by Darren Bell