BWW Review: 5 GUYS CHILLIN', Kings Head Theatre, October 3 2015
LGBTQ theatre can sometimes be accused of naval gazing - and unable to reach a broader audience than its niche. For Peter Darney's 5 Guys Chillin' this is probably the point. It's a fascinating piece of verbatim theatre that Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher argues in the programme notes, 'We [as a community] need to talk about.' In exploring the world of chill-outs and chem-sex, this brings to life a world that whilst many in the gay community may have heard about, perhaps few really understood.
5 Guys Chillin' brings together 50 anonymous interviews describing what goes on at the after-party or the chill-out. Set at a chill-out in an anonymous flat (it's already started as the audience arrive) the '5 guys' share stories with each other of their own chill-out experiences.
We hear about the etiquette: instead of bringing a bottle you're expected to bring drugs, and the host gets to decide where you can and can't have sex. We also hear about the highs (chemical and emotional) and lows; the exhilarating experiences and the moments the characters hit rock bottom; even the north/south divide.
It talks about HIV, and it has parallels with My Night With Reg - showing how contracting and living with the virus has changed in the 20 years since that was first performed - but HIV is merely one part of a far more complicated story.
Darney has done an exceptional job weaving the stories together into the five distinct characters, creating a clever narrative. The mood cleverly and almost imperceptibly darkens as the party develops. Stories are interweaved with pieces of physical theatre, interrupting the chat with increasingly feverish suggestions of intimacy. This is a show that catches you by surprise and forces you to consider really difficult questions.
The cast create likeable complicated characters and deliver believable performances, doing justice to the interviewees. Shri Patel particularly impresses recounting tales of racism as well as self-hate as a gay Pakistani Muslim in an arranged heterosexual marriage.
As a piece of verbatim theatre there is nothing out of the ordinary about 5 Guys Chillin' - and sometimes the setting feels a little contrived (although talking about past experiences is quite a common occurrence at a chill-out). But the testimony itself is fascinating and hugely important. The play does not judge its protagonists and instead asks plenty of questions of the audience - without pretending it has any of the answers.
As the audience leave the party still continues - as it likely does somewhere all over the country.