The faintly audible external hum of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ provides the perfect atmosphere for Damien Tracey’s latest work, unravelling from the Dominion Theatre’s Studio space, he shines a spotlight on the seething, fearful creature that is the Russian government. A clever mutation of the Olympics’ motto, Faster-Higher-Stronger-Straighter is a no-nonsense war cry of outrage that resounds with remarkable poignancy in the hearts of its level-headed audience, regardless of sexuality. Its two antithetical yet realistic heterosexual male characters demonstrate both the enlightened, though somewhat ashamed, penitence for British society’s previous contempt for the LGBT community and Russia’s increasingly blinkered regression.
In London, on the opening night of the 2012 Olympics, Darragh is participating in the Opening Ceremony. His boyfriend, Russell, is left at home to welcome John, Darragh’s father, who has come from Ireland to be a part of the celebrations. Darragh reveals that his ‘coming out’ experience was disastrous and consequently he shuns and disapproves of overtly camp behaviour in a bid to appear neutral to his family. He frequently reprimands the uninhibited Russell for fear of offending his father. However, John displays no signs of homophobia and actively makes an effort to get to know Russell. In direct contrast, Russian couple Pahval and Yakhov appear to us from the near future on the opening night of Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics. Pahval, like Darragh, is performing in the ceremony and plans to parade a rainbow flag in front of President Putin in protest of the anti-gay law. Vladislav, Yakhov’s father, is a law enforcement officer and sacrifices the love of his son in order to pursue the law of the moment.
The cast of six expertly demonstrates the disparate opinions that the world holds of the LGBT community. While Charlie Allen’s wonderfully flamboyant Russell provides an honest representation of the liberated gay man particularly indigenous to Britain, Chris Aylmer, as Darragh, beautifully demonstrates the self-destruction of someone whose family has reacted negatively to his sexuality. Harry Jardine’s performance as Yakhov exudes an animalistic frustration that pulls the audience into a cumulative thundercloud of indignation and sets us, nostrils flaring, against Carsten Hayes’ Vladislav. Hayes portrays both chauvinistic weakness and blind obedience showing us Russia’s utterly nonsensical step back that can only ever be to its own detriment.
Faster-Higher-Stronger-Straighter shines bright among other plays concerning the acceptance of homosexuality due to its simplicity and lack of pretense. It rather clumsily juxtaposes the two contradictory scenarios yet the result is undeniably successful, emotionally drawing us to the universal joy of acceptance. A heartwarming reconciliation between father and son in one country mirrored by death threats in the other points repeatedly to Tracey’s challenging ‘When you take away the sex, what is there to fear but love?’ A valiant stance of defiance against a country that was once revered globally as the pinnacle of progression.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Written by Damien Tracey
Directed by Whitney Mosery
Performance date – Tuesday 21st January 2014
Visit the website for Faster-Higher-Stronger-Straighter here