You wouldn’t be wrong to make assumptions about this play from the title alone. With seemingly so many new queer works out there striving to be the most shocking, ‘gayest’ or just downright predictably stereotypical in order to sell a few tickets and make money at the bar, the return of F**king Men to the theatre fringe in London is a very welcome one. This production is the antithesis of ‘any gay will do’ dramas.
The brilliant writing is the reason alone that it has played in London on no less than five previous occasions, and this brand spanking new take has been brought up-to-date perfectly, despite its debut only having been fourteen years ago (Note: Gay evolution is very fast and so theatrical works often require constant updates). Joe DiPietro’s play, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, still delivers buckets of emotion, gathered from any number of sweet, awkward and sometimes even aggravated interactions between its characters, all the way to genuine moments of tenderness and love. Putting it plainly, it’s full of heart (and ass).
The play sees the lives of several gay men and a bi man navigating their lives, and whilst the reason for their interactions always revolve around f**king, the depth of the piece is anything but shallow. Gay stereotypes are acknowledged but refreshingly not overplayed, and are occasionally confronted in the form of farce to prevent the piece from detracting from its focus of the raw characterisations. As The Recs ‘subtly’ alluded to in our opening paragraph, this clever refinement to portraying the lives of gay and bisexual men is rarely achieved successfully, but Steven Kunis’s direction is quite perfect.
If you’re coming for nudity, you won’t be disappointed, but there isn’t an ounce of crassness in this production. Kunis hasn’t bowed to any expectation of full frontal crudeness, instead opting for clever positioning and ‘cockography’ to ensure that whilst the audiences expectations are met and they still get to see the ‘motions’ of what is being portrayed, they aren’t left blushing at the sight of a stray genital here or there. This decision alone adds so much credibility to the piece, and sets it apart from its competition.
Every great playwright’s vision is totally at the mercy of the cast who they find to deliver it, and thankfully Anne Vosser has played a blinder in casting these four brilliantly diverse talents. All four of its actors hit every mark, setting the bar for acting in a fringe production commendably high. The three Brits achieve fantastic versatility in flipping between general American and British accents, to the point that when flipping between characters we consistently forgot it was the same actor. It must be remarked upon that the complexity of their ‘getting dressed and undressed’ choreography in the play would be enough to catch any good actor out, but each took it in their stride and there wasn’t a single pair of pants the wrong way around.
Alex Britt plays his two young, naïve and often taken advantage of, characters with ease. Charlie Condou and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge bring a beautifully mature grounding to the script, with the latter oozing in Hollywood charm and charisma for every minute he was on stage. Condou’s seemingly innate ability to portray vulnerability and meekness of one man, contrasted pleasurably with the confidence and power of a TV famous journalist, and this versatility is a credit to his talent.
When the bar has been set so high with this quartet it’s hard to place anyone above the other, but the star of the night was undoubtably Derek Mitchell, who delivered some of the most brilliant acting that this reviewer has seen in recent years. His commitment to every part, deep characterisation and intertwining it with utterly hilarious mannerisms, was more than applaudable. The Recs sat totally transfixed at his comedic and fast paced portrayal of the New York playwright. Simply flawless.
If you didn’t catch F**king Men the other five times it was in London, Dublin or Edinburgh, or even if you did, we strongly suggest you get yourself a ticket to this powerful and thoroughly entertaining production. It’s as good as it gets.
A vibrant update that’s not f**king about ★★★★★