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Review: Naughty (Kings Head Theatre)

Review by Sam Waite

After premiering the piece at the Camden Fringe in 2021, Andrew Houghton has continued to rework and develop their one-person show Naughty. Playing a limited engagement at The Kings Head Theatre as part of their season, A Queer Interrogation, the show explores the author's past trauma and the unique experience of growing up gay in an area with few other queer people to help soften the speed bumps.

Andrew, the character, is a teenager newly realising his own gayness, and initially baffled by just how little of an impact the announcement makes. The story is set mainly during his sixth-form days, where his romantic and platonic relationships create ever more drama and difficulty, and an inadvisable closeness to the teachers at a drama academy he visits after school becomes increasingly less appropriate. We watch as long term friendships fade away over time, and Andrew’s issues around trust and forgiveness re-shape his identity following being cheated on.

The key players of the story – boyfriend Jake, nosy teacher Grace, longtime bestie Sophie, Andrew's very Scottish mum – are all portrayed by Houghton. They adopt accents and mannerisms in an instant, and immediately clarify who is speaking through their body language. Unsurprisingly, Houghton’s strongest acting work is as Andrew, their semi-autobiographical character, as they really dig into the highs and lows, the genuine joy and horrific anxiety that comes from simply existing as a gay teen.

As an actor, Houghton is likeable and often very funny, but capable of seering emotional heights. While it's easy to tell who they are speaking as at any given time, it's also remarkably easy to follow Andrew’s emotional state, with Houghton guiding the narrative through their sometimes bombastic but, equally as often, understated performance.

While this is a one-actor play, Christopher Sherwood does lend his pre-recorded voice to Kevin, the increasingly inappropriate drama teacher who forms what seems to be a genuine friendship with Andrew but turns increasingly uncomfortable and pushy in his conversations. Sherwood creates a solid balance between believably friendliness, boundary-pushing attempts at seduction, and openly lecherous suggestions. It's easy to understand why Andrew would trust Kevin, and then easier still to see why the friendship becomes a point of strain and tension.

Directed by Pink Milk Theatre co-founder Sami Sumaria, this iteration of Naughty has been adapted to suit the unique layout of the Kings Head. Houghton quickly sets up which character will be appearing where, making it easier still to follow who is speaking at any given time. Re-focusing of the space’s lighting also serves to create a disconnect between “scenes” being played out as Houghton takes on multiple roles, and the continuous monologue that guides the piece. Long-time collaborators, and real-life partners, Sumaria’s work shows a clear and concise understanding of how Houghton works and performs.

The piece is visually incredibly simple, the only real set pieces being a stool and a rainbow-coloured Jenga set. Far from being a detractor, this helps to keep the swapping from place to place, from character to character, from becoming too confusing or overwhelming. The Jenga set appears for a particularly troubling scene, the stakes of Houghton moving the pieces reflecting the pressure and increasingly unbalanced power dynamics in the dialogue. Eventually, allowing the frustration to take over, the pieces are scattered about the auditorium, and the stool thrust across the stage. Without giving away the point in the narrative or participants in the conversation, this is an extremely powerful moment and reflects Andrew’s increasing realisation of the wrongness of some of his relationships.

As bold and insightful a playwright as they are a dynamic and exciting performer, Houghton’s script is welcoming and engaging from the get-go, before progressively becoming less and less comfortable to engage with and moving into a haunting, powerful climax. By the time Andrew is slamming his hands against the floor and screaming for the wrongdoings to just stop, we feel we know this young man so intimately that we as the audience are genuinely, irrevocably wounded by the way he has been treated.

Deceptively simple and willing to explore difficult topics with a genuine heart and humour, Naughty delves into painful territories but maintains a certain amount of queer joy throughout. Even seeing Andrew broken down and agonising over the journey taken to reach the finale, this is a piece of cathartic, healing work which will resonate with many and inspire a good number of its audience. This is not the story of a queer teen broken down by life, but of one who is still learning to grasp and utilise their own power.


Naughty plays its final show at The Kings Head on May 7th, ahead of touring regional theatres.

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Photos by Abby Timms



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