From its inception the story behind F*cking Men has been considered controversial by some and theatrical Viagra by others.
Joe DiPietro’s play, which is running at London’s King’s Head Theatre, is based on La Ronde, an explosive drama that fell foul of censors when it was first staged way back in 1897.
But, in more liberal times, the daisy chain story of ten couplings, has had incredible success, notably with David Hare’s 1998 adaptation, The Blue Room, in which audiences saw Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen in a series of intimate encounters.
F*cking Men does what it says on the tin and, while I don’t think the brutal, unimaginative title does this revelatory story any favours, it is an honest, two-word, summary of the plot.
We’re not talking about great love affairs or in-depth romance here. This is a story of duplicity, deception and dishonesty among a group of men looking for meaning and sexual fulfilment in their lives.
DiPietro’s gay version of the story, re-cut and re-staged for this latest extension of its hit run in Islington, involves three actors playing a total of nine characters in ten fluidly-staged vignettes.
Director Mark Barford’s exploration of this character-driven story is intense and meaningful, telling us a lot about them and ourselves. The brilliantly observed dialogue is far more subtle than it gives itself credit for.
From the moment it opens the audience is swept along with the humour and burst of emotion in each liaison. This is a drama that wants to be explicit and hard-core but is actually a beautifully acted tale of hope and yearning.
The play opens with rent boy, John, giving a squaddie his first gay experience for £20 and a wristwatch – (“I’m not gay! I’m in the army” protests motormouth soldier, Steve) – and barrels along to the denouement, where we meet John again being offered the chance of a better life.
And in-between we meet a tutor who is having marital problems with his other half, a promiscuous uni student, a porn star who pops pills (“It’s not drugs, it’s just a tablet” he says swallowing an E) for a command performance, a closet film star, a playwright, a journo and a teacher.
Each character is richly drawn, each vulnerable in their own way, most looking for permanence, love and contentment but willing to snatch a quick few minutes of respite out from their lives with a total stranger.
HIV plays a minor part in a story which, when written, hinted strongly about syphilis. Unlike My Night With Reg, the virus doesn’t impact on the story.
Richard De Lisle, Harper James and Haydn Whiteside brilliantly portray a series of complex men whose hook-ups, casual or otherwise, have repercussions for others.
Whiteside’s threesome –John, student Kyle, and porn star Ryan-are funny, poignant and endearing. While Kyle lives for the moment, picking up men on Grindr and shagging anything with a pulse, Ryan and John dream of a future featuring more than casual sex. Both sell their bodies, seemingly without care, but their fragility is evident.
There’s a real uplifting and life-affirming moment when John is shown genuine kindness and it’s absolutely heartwarming to see the ecstatic expression on his face.
A few stereotypes creep in to some of the characterisations but these are all recognisable men, grounded very much in today’s world.
F*cking Men plays at the King’s Head Theatre until January 9.
Beautifully acted and fluidly directed. F*cking Men is an engaging story of duplicity, deception and dishonesty.