I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from The Chemsex Monologues, because, well, despite being a fag hag, I am definitely not on the scene. In fact, when two gentlemen of my acquaintance used the term “chemsex party” just the night before I say this play, I had to restrain myself from leaping in and saying, “What’s this all about anyway?” I mean, obviously, I’m not getting to invited to these parties, but I’m so behind the times I didn’t even know what they were about.
So: let’s start from the beginning. Chemsex parties appear to be events where young gay men (and maybe not so young gay men) go and do lots of drugs – meth (not sure if it’s crystal meth or methedone), maybe Ketamine, something called G (I don’t know what that one means!) – and then have lots of sex while very high with other toned young gay men from the clubs and listening to thumpy music. From the atmosphere described in the Monologues, it’s a late night scene, sometimes involving porn, porn stars and hustlers, and …. well, probably also involving a lot of bad decisions. And some non-consensual sex. And maybe some sex because you feel obligated to because people are giving you drugs.
I think there are probably a lot of people going to this play, though, who are familiar with this scene, either from being in it or being on the fringes of it. I think this play is aimed more at them rather than “tourists” like me – although two of the characters, Fag Hag Cath (Charly Flyte) and sexual health outreach worker Daniel (Matthew Hodson) are definitely on the outside of the scene. They provide some, I think, good perspective on how things look from the point of view of someone who, say, is trying to survive their twenties rather than die having what seemed at the time the best time possible. But we also get the point of view of “the narrator” (Richard Watkins), a rich boy teetering on the edge of making some really bad decisions; and “Nameless” (Denholm Spurr), who’s really deep in the scene and not particularly concerned about next week, much less next year.
Structurally, we’re given the view of the narrator to pull us in; then some really sweet moments with Nameless, which to me captured the euphoria and sparkling sexuality of the good moments of the scene. There’s no denying, Nameless’ monologue about fucking a porn star in a bathroom while drugged out of his eyeballs is written to be blisteringly, squirmingly not; but a lot of that high sprinkled down like snow to chill me with the news that both of them were going to be obligated to have sex with everyone as more or less a cost of entry into the party. I hold consent as a value up there with freedom of religion and free speech, and to be told that these characters didn’t have it anymore just took all of the shiny off of the good time they were having. Still, playwright Patrick Cash’s words were compelling, and I think he made that scene come vibrantly to life: so we, the audience, get to experience a little of that high alongside with a lot of the less joyful moments.
It’s possible that this play is meant to be a discouragement to people who are in the scene to maybe have a think about being sensible with what they’re doing with their bodies (certainly it’s something you’d have to be blind to not take out of this play if you’re seeing it as a representation of reality); but what it also is is a good take on several different experiences with the Chemsex scene, told through interwoven characters that make it easy to keep track of how they all relate to each other. It’s an interesting evening but very raw and not for the faint of heart or easily offended.
(This review is for the performance that took place on August 16th, 2016. It continues through August 20th.)