GT Stage

REVIEW: Faster Higher Stronger Straighter

GT checks out the newest play from up and coming play write Damien Tracey.

During the London Olympics there was a great feeling of pride throughout London; it was tangible and electric. In the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, the mood around the globe has been more solemn. Many members of the gay community have been opposed to the Sochi Winter Olympics because of Russia’s discrimination of LGBT people.

Taking inspiration from this contrast Faster Higher Stronger Straighter is set in the opposing moments in time and tells the story of two couples and their experiences of gay life.

The play takes on very serious themes of oppression and sexuality as well as exploring family. Although there is high drama, there are moments of light relief, which makes the play pleasurable to watch. It’s very interesting that writer Damien Tracey is able to use two huge spectacles as a backdrop to the more personal stories we see.

One couple is based in London on the days leading up to the 2012 Olympics. Darragh, played by Chris Aylmer, is a gay man from Ireland who has secured a spot in the opening ceremony. The story begins as he and his partner Russell are welcoming his Father John to their flat for the first time. We follow the three of them as they rehash what it felt like to come out in our society and the pressures still under gay men today. Tracey uses this as a time to explore issues around masculinity and pride in an insightful and honest way. Darragh gives an incredible performance as he and his father John, played by Chris McCalphy, reminisce about Darragh’s coming out. There are some heart-breaking details, which are handled with real sensitivity.

The other part of the story is about Pahval and Yakhov who live in Sochi. Pahval, played by Naeem Hayat, is an Olympian who's been used by Russia to show they are supportive of homosexuals. Yakhov, played by Harry Jardine, is son to Vladislav, the leading force in the oppression of the LGBT community. Their story is filled with sadness and shocking brutality as they encounter varying levels of violence and abuse. Pahval and Yakhov have thorough and complex back-stories, which the actors bring to life. It’s apparent that they have really suffered, but at the core of their suffering, they’ve found love. Yakhov’s father, Vladislav is a challenging role for actor Carsten Hayes, a challenge that he takes in his stride. As an audience we began hating Vladislav but we see him change as the play continues. He is brutal, righteous and although he isn’t right, he loves his son.

Both stories intersect beautifully with one another. They share the stage with the same set, even the same props and it's clear that director Whitney Mosery wanted to illustrate that they share similar problems. The staging works to highlight how universal some experiences are for the gay community, like coming out. It’s easy to think living in the UK, especially in big cities, that being gay is simple, we have pride, equal rights and protection from the law with regard to discrimination. This play demonstrates how far we’ve still go to go in terms of social acceptance and equality. And by emphasizing the problems that we have at home, the comparable issues in Russia seem more severe.

This story is well written, wonderfully acted and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. However, we didn't just get to see some fantastic theatre. By going to see this play, the audience also donated to the Russian LGBT Network who work toward equality and social acceptance in Russia. It’s a worthwhile cause beautifully illustrated in the play and we hope it returns for a longer run next time.

GT gives this 5 out of 5

Faster Higher Stronger Straighter was at The Dominion Studio, London.

Words: Martin Dixon

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