Author Patrick Cash talks to GT about his writing, and, how one of his plays – The Chemsex Monologues – will shortly be making its way to Australia.
Your work often touches upon the topic of chemsex. What is it that keeps you returning to this theme?
I’m interested in what makes people take drugs. As a teenager I discovered Bristol’s polymorphous drugs culture in raves and clubs, and loved it. I couldn’t understand why pills that made you so empathic and happy were illegal. Yet as I grew older and discovered more about my sexuality and identity, I wonder: did I take to that drugs culture so readily because of an inherent unhappiness with my sober world? I had deep feelings of depression at the time.
I came to the London gay scene with an open mind. But even in my early twenties I began to question: why is every gay man in this Vauxhall club off his face on drugs? I left London to live abroad from 24 to 26, and when I came back, mephedrone had exploded. I was working for a nightlife magazine so I saw it firsthand alongside chemsex, G and the chillouts. Some of it was great fun, but some of it was causing people harm: losing jobs, STIs, non-consensual sex.
And from talking with various people, including chemsex expert David Stuart, it became clear that this ‘trend’ might be connected to something far deeper. If so many gay men want to escape sobriety together, then perhaps it’s tied into growing up gay in heteronormative culture: outsiders. I’m not so much interested in chemsex itself, as in how gay men’s drug-using behaviour is a reflection of an unequal society.
The Chemsex Monologues has already been a great success in London. How do you think it will translate for an Australian audience?
I believe the core issues described above can especially translate in Australia with the recent battle for same-sex marriage. The play is a whirlwind of the London gay scene from Soho to Vauxhall to chillouts in Stockwell. But I wanted to show the vulnerability and lovability of these human people beneath the hysterical ‘chemsex’ banner and if I’ve caught that emotional truth then the play should be able to translate to all areas of the world. Fingers crossed!
How did the decision to take the play to Australia come about?
Richard Watkins, who performed in our London staging of The Chemsex Monologues last year, first had the idea. He’d had a lifelong dream to perform at the Adelaide Fringe, and so he mooted the suggestion to myself and Luke (Davies, the director of the Chemsex Monologues, with whom I run Dragonflies Theatre). We thought it over and decided to go for it: working with a great, dedicated cast to ensure we send over a theatrical treat to Australia!
Is this a piece primarily for LGBT+ audiences, or is there something for everyone here?
Primarily the piece will attract LGBT+ audiences, but I suppose – without sounding too wanky – the purpose of making good theatre, or good art in general, is to cut through our differences and remind us our emotional human connection. There are also characters who are technically ‘outsiders’ to the LGBT+ world themselves, such as a straight girl looking after her gay best friend, so there’s a diversity of angles for identification within the play.
What has changed to make Chemsex such a pressing issue on the gay scene in recent years?
I’m not writing to piously preach at people for taking drugs, or to try and state all gay men are doing chemsex. They’re not, and some people are having chemsex and enjoying drugs in healthy, safe ways. It’s not a black and white, nor ‘one size fits all’ issues. But for some men, chemsex is causing them harm. When 58 men died from G overdoses in the last four years, we’ve got a problem within our community. Let’s speak about it and acknowledge it.
What’s your advice for anyone struggling with chemsex issues?
You’re not alone. There’s so much help out there. Talk to somebody close to you, preferably not taking drugs. Present at 56 Dean Street, the sexual health clinic in Soho, where they have a chems support clinic. Go to Antidote LGBT+ drug service at London Friend. Visit the Club Drug Clinic. Look to private counsellors like Katie Evans Counselling, Pink Therapy or Dorota Mucha. There’s also all kinds of help available online, starting with dean.st/chemsex-support/.
The cast of the Chemsex Monologues will be in Sydney for Mardi Gras. Do you have a message from the UK for everyone out celebrating?
Yes: have an amazing time healthily celebrating love and life! Wish I could be there with you, but I’m sure our beautiful cast will represent the UK in spectacular fashion. Oh yeah, and come catch The Chemsex Monologues at some point during the party!
The Chemsex Monologues Australia Tour will be visiting The German Club in Adelaide from March 7th – March 19th. More details here. The Blood Moon Theatre in Sydney from March 22nd – March 25th. Full details here.