After seeing a run of gay themed plays at the Above the Stag theater, I was surprised to be contacted out of the blue (or out of Twitter more precisely) and asked if I wanted to review a gay-themed play at the Kings Head Theater\ – a show that had been already been to Edinburgh but was going to be making its debut in London. So I said yes and waited for Between (and its South African creators) to arrive for late night quickie in Islington. (All of the performances are at 9:30 PM and it’s only 50 minutes long so I feel this is both an accurate description and an irresistible bit of innuendo.) I normally won’t do shows that start that late, but this show seemed promising – anything that’s toured this much has decidedly got something going for it – and I wanted to find out exactly what in person.
The play is a two hander with multiple story lines – I was told three but I wasn’t entirely sure if they were actually two or possibly even just one set of characters at different points in their lives. There were two pubescent boys discovering their sexualities together (and dealing with what it meant to be told you were gay, or to actually do sexual activities with a member of the same sex); a couple reaching the end of their relationship and (I thought the same couple) a teacher and a pupil who develop a connection through their work together. This final story line involved endless readings of sonnet 23 which, at its peak, nearly had me in tears: a delicious, delightful chance to see acting methodology and approach discussed on stage.
My heart was also breaking watching a long term couple break up, but, despite the crush my heart felt, these scenes were least engaging; I think I was having a disconnect between watching these two characters get together early on (as actor/teach) then watching them fall apart and trying to figure out where the cracks came in; in retrospect (and only after a discussion with one of the authors) I think the reason I couldn’t get the matchup – which only was clear to me when the student shakes his teacher’s hand after getting cast in a role – was that this romance actually was one that didn’t happen.
Most fascinating, though, was watching Oskar Brown and Nicholas Cambell as two young men reading porn and fantasizing about sex together. These scenes were also undeniably hot – because what we in reality had were two really good looking adult men in front of us behaving sexually in a convincing way – but also extremely original and painful. I’ve never seen a play that made a real stab at showing how teenagers behave behind closed doors (Romeo and Juliet leaves out a lot), but Closer really, really got it right … the fantasizing, the questioning, and, to be honest, the lying, headgames, and repercussions all rang 100% true at a level that reminded me of Judy Blume and other fiction.
While the script isn’t perfect, the performances are very good, and, let’s be honest, seeing sexy men strip off and kiss is a bonus for most performances in my book. Was it hotter inside the theater or out? On this August night, the boiling air was rolling out from the stage door.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 5th. It continues Tuesday-Saturday through August 23rd.)