Superficial is a Soho gay club that’s preferential to pop and dedicated to divas – a church where the charts are cherished.
New employee Sam is butch. He’s masc for masc. And he’s gorgeous. So when Kylie-obsessed bar boy JJ falls for him, and decides to make a play, it’s time to ditch the disco, give up the glitter, and attempt to pass as ‘straight-acting’. But will Sam be seduced by the sequinned scene of Soho? Can JJ convince that he prefers hard rock to electro-pop? And will the club even survive – If Sam’s property-developer father has his way then this temple of the turntables will shortly be demolished to make way for luxury flats…
This new play from author Pat Cash is a hot-blooded and hilarious exploration of masculinity within the gay scene. As we’ve come to expect from Cash’s work, there are tears of both laughter and despair throughout. However, unlike much of his recent work, this piece is not set in the hyper-realistic world of chem-sex and clinics – that he has explored with great success – and is a notably heightened affair with the feel of a modern fairy tale. It took us a moment to adjust to this change of gear, but by the time a meth-gobbling Mariah Carey turns up as the lead character’s imaginary friend, the tone is quickly established and we’re seduced and enchanted by an engaging excursion populated by a magical menagerie of underworld archetypes.
Leading a superbly talent cast are Paul Duncan as Sam and Richard Watkins as JJ, both rising admirably to the challenge of subverting their character’s self-expression as the piece progresses. Duncan is utterly convincing as the semi-closeted straight-acting Sam, and displays great sensitivity as he allows the cracks in his armour to become visible – converting vulnerability into strength with skill, style, and sex-appeal. Watkins has the unenviable task of transforming JJ from cute and camp to closed and callous, and he pulls it off with aplomb – eventually allowing a particularly toxic brand of masculinity to mutate him into something truly loathsome before our very eyes.
Arkem Walton gives a bravura performance as the fabulously flamboyant Benjamin – proprietor of Superficial and elder statesman of the scene. Wide-eyed and wildean, his straight-faced delivery of outrageous anecdotage is a joy to behold. And there’s a particularly poignant contribution to this study of sexual expression from James Ferguson, as the club’s hugely entertaining resident drag queen – Ibiza Chilltape. Ferguson gives a masterclass in mastering masks, and the pain and bravery that’s revealed, as he wipes off both his make-up and his smile, is heartbreakingly real.
Sam’s parents are portrayed by Matthew Hodson as Dad, and Charly Flyte as Mum. Initially painted with broad strokes, these characters grow into something more real as their world collides with that of their son – scenes with Hodson playing a father struggling to comprehend his offspring’s sexuality are raw and affecting. Flyte also shines in several other roles, but for us will be remembered most fondly for her gloriously deranged Mariah Carey.
Energetic direction from Luke Davies ensures that we always feel at the heart of the action as he makes the most of an unusual space. A space that becomes reflective – quite literally – as every inch, from floor to ceiling to ashtray, is covered in shiny silver foil by designer Jacob Hughes – inviting us to examine our own identities as we watch others flare and sparkle on the stage. A suitably surreal environment for this identity parade, enhanced by ingenious illumination from lighting designer Richard Desmond.
This is an important and timely piece from one of theatre’s most up and coming young writers. Both Pat Cash and his works are absolutely of their time, and both deserve to be unleashed upon a much wider audience. Full of song and dance and joy, Superficial is a precious gem that delights in magnifying the hidden flaws beneath its shiny, multi-faceted surface.
GT gives Superficial 5/5
Superficial runs at The Glory until July 7. For full details see: theglory.co