“This deserves a wide audience”
The glossary of terms that we were handed as we took our seats gave a fair indication of what to expect from this play – Grindr, slamming, mephedrone, and barebacking are all among the definitions detailed – this alluringly esoteric language is used throughout a frank and starkly honest piece that lifts the veil and explores the darkly seductive world of gay men and chemsex.
Produced in association with 56 Dean Street – Europe’s busiest sexual health clinic, located in London’s Soho – this is the first full play from author Pat Cash. We’ve been fans of Cash’s work for some time now – his knack for giving voice to LGBT people through witty and insightful writing is something that we’ve been keenly anticipating him applying to full-length narrative, and we’re pleased to report that this first foray doesn’t disappoint. The resultant meditation on how, for many gay men, sex and drugs have become inseparably entangled is presented from a place of love and compassion – this is about understanding why some gay men continually put themselves in potentially risky situations, and not about judging them for being ‘trashbags’.
The main protagonists are a pair of young men who meet on Grindr – an encounter deliciously depicted with a hilarious multimedia sequence. Zachariah Fletcher gives a sensitive and subtly complex performance as Ash – the addict and rent-boy who badly needs some love in his live. Ash’s relationship with Elliot – the clean cut HIV+ twink played endearingly by the well-toned Damien Killeen – gives a strong backbone to the piece. An early highlight is a scene in which the boys are both confused by what the other means by ‘doing a shot’…
Matthew Hodson steals the show as Jason – a wealthy, arrogant, sharp-suited bastard. Jason is the sort of gay man so consumed by internalised homophobia and self-aggrandising that he genuinely fails to see the hypocrisy of publicly condemning queer party culture while slamming G with a rent-boy behind closed doors. He’s a vile piece of work and Hodson gives a master-class in vainglorious villainy.
Popular cabaret and burlesque performer Pretty Miss Cairo gives a warm and heartfelt portrait as Shirley – the proprietress of a beauty salon near the Dean Street clinic who has taken it upon herself to shelter and comfort many of Soho’s lost boys. Shirley reminds her young men to use protection upon an erection, and hides them in the tanning booths when they’ve gone overboard with the drugs. Pretty Miss Cairo is perfect casting for this ‘tart with a heart’, and we’d quite like to see her spin off into her own show…
The enigmatically named Stewart Who? holds the strands of the story together as calm and unflappable Ryan – one of the sexual health workers at the titular clinic. This is a solid and reassuring performance – we’d feel very safe showing Ryan our bits.
Sharply observed and ultimately optimistic – this is a production that’s about love – love for other human beings, and learning to love oneself. There is a serious message conveyed through a lot of laughs – this deserves a wide audience.
GT gives The Clinic 4/5
The Clinic runs at the King’s Head Theatre until August 29th. For full details see: kingsheadtheatre.com