Nigel is 37, Jamie is 32. They’ve been together for ten years and are passing themselves off as 30 and 27 on Gaydar for the odd threesome. They mutually agreed to play together, with a whole rulebook and everything to protect their relationship, but when they hit their tenth anniversary Nigel invites a 17 year old he found on Gaydar to share their bed. The boy is indifferent to their rulebook and exposes and exploits not just the huge chasm which has grown between the two men, but the sham which their ‘rulebook’ has become. Jamie had bought into the agreement to open their relationship up, but realises through the intrusion of Mark into the relationship that his needs have changed. What to do with a 10 year relationship? To compromise, change or leave?
It’s a very knowing comedy – a gay social commentary for the 21st century, with a biting insight into issues affecting all relationships, not just gay ones. Nigel tries to recapture his youth by having sex with one, fooling himself all the while that in the Gaydar age of sexual deregulation he can have unrestricted sex without consequences. Most telling though is the ‘rulebook’ the couple has, and Mark’s indifference to it – in an era where we judge other gay men by their profiles and their potential sexual usefulness to us, is it ever credible to ignore or fair to avoid feelings or their implications? The play suggests that the couple’s use of ‘cumboy17’ is ultimately misguided – the hunt for sex is so universal and presented as the solution to all needs, that real and more pressing needs like friendship, companionship, support and guidance are getting lost.
Paul Keating is downright fantastic as Jamie, caught between twin desires of a long-term love whose desire for him has waned, and a new lover, who validates him in all the ways he’s lost, but without the stability Jamie needs. I saw the actor last in ‘Closer to Heaven’ seven years ago, and he’s equally as good here, making compelling viewing as a nice guy caught up in an impossible situation, partly of his own making. It would be easy but wrong to overlook Stuart Laing as Nigel, pompous yet equally vulnerable, unaware of the mistakes he’s making whilst trying to satisfy his desires, and of the gulf his belief in ‘consequence-free’ play is creating. Daniel Finn is an excellent foil for them both; jaw droppingly beautiful (particularly when full-frontal naked), yet equally vulnerable, and all-too-familiarly manipulative. His balanced portrayal of ‘cumboy17’ is part of what makes this staging such a success.
That such characters and such a volatile scenario should be so funny – this is a comedy – is testament to Matthew Todd’s razor-sharp script and insightful direction by Pete Nettell. I would, as other reviewers have remarked, preferred more focus on all the issues driving the protagonists – particularly Nigel’s difficulty in accepting his aging – but they’re all well-identified and the actors are clearly aware of them. I laughed, I very nearly cried, and as with the first gay play I saw – ‘Beautiful Thing’ – learned not just a great deal about where I was in my gay world, but much about where I needed to be, seeing far too much of myself in all three characters. Far too much of Nigel and Jamie’s relationship was my relationship, albeit divided haphazardly between both characters. Gaydar and sexual freedom – the means of our liberation or the means of our self-destruction? It’s a cautionary tale, which draws you in to laugh at its familiarity, before clobbering you over the head with the complex reality.