Review: TELL ME STRAIGHT, Chiswick Playhouse

Paul Bradshaw leads this new queer play

By: Feb. 17, 2022
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Review: TELL ME STRAIGHT, Chiswick Playhouse Review: TELL ME STRAIGHT, Chiswick Playhouse

Tell Me Straight is a hilarious exploration of the world of modern dating: Grindr, miscommunication and awkward romps at the back of a cinema. Led by Paul Bradshaw, the play is a semi-autobiographical glimpse into one man's search for love in London. However, there's a small problem: though an openly gay man, he cannot help himself from falling into the "straightest of dicksand". In fact, he almost exclusively "dates" straight men.

Initially produced as part of King's Head Theatre's Queer Season in 2021, and compiled during Lockdown, the play already has an OFFIE nomination under its belt - and for good reason. The script is charming, endearing and wholly relatable for anyone who has tried to find themselves (and love) in their twenties - so much so that it almost leaves you cringing in your seat.

In a recent interview, Bradshaw explained "It's a piece that's incredibly close to my heart, as it's based on my real-life experiences", and this tenderness is evident within his performance. He is supported throughout by the charismatic George Greeland, who multi-roles as the lead's sexual encounters - who are each a different shade of awful or awkward. These character changes are seamless, signified by the simple changing of a jacket. With taut direction from Imogen Frances, the pair share effortless chemistry that keeps the audience entertained throughout.

While the play is described as a two-hander, there are the occasional interruptions in the form of voice notes from Dani (Stephanie Levi-John) - a concerned friend who wants nothing more than for the unnamed lead to find himself a "rainbow flag-waving gay guy" to date. While the inclusion of these notes sometimes feels unnecessary, they tie neatly into the concept of modern dating. After all, who hasn't sent a mortifying voice note (or two) to their friend after a disastrous Tinder date?

The staging is rather bare-bones: some chairs and a coat rack. While this doesn't necessarily do a lot in setting the scene, it does allow the playtext to become the focal point of the production. This is particularly important when you consider the topics at hand, such as sexuality and self-acceptance. Funny as they may be, these awkward encounters paint a picture of a society that, while being somewhat progressive, still results in people hiding who they really are. Sexual desires and interests are suppressed, causing them to burst out of the characters in unexpected, heated and sometimes even violent encounters.

However, the absence of set and props is remedied by Chloe Stally Gibson's lighting design and Roly Botha's sound design, making the transitions from one place to the next a little clearer.

Blending political commentary with the kind of embarrassing memories we're often programmed to keep to ourselves, Tell Me Straight is a fun and entertaining night out for all - but maybe not the place to bring your date.

Check out a guest blog from director Imogen Francis here.

Tell Me Straight is at Chiswick Playhouse 15-26 February - book tickets here.


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