REVIEW: THIS MUCH (or An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage) (Soho Theatre)
Modern day relationships and the incessant craving for ‘more’ are spun together in the latest work from John Fitzpatrick. A refreshing change from other new writing on gay relationships, THIS MUCH (or An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage) mixes real misery, uncertainty and a distinct lack of identity that gay men experience when searching for love. Taking aim at the conventions and ideals of long term relationships, this play shatters the traditions we uphold, sifting through the pieces to find the meaning and reasoning behind the basic human desire to belong.
We find Gar, a young and fairly awkward gay man, approached by Albert, a flirty and confident twenty-something and after a brief introduction the pair realise they have spoken to one another before on one of many gay ‘social networking’ apps. Gar is entranced by Albert’s blasé and carefree nature and the pair exchange numbers before Gar returns home, which incidentally he shares with his long term boyfriend Anthony. Anthony is uptight and house-proud but loves Gar and when he inevitably stumbles upon Gar’s infidelity, he forgives him and the two move on. Their relationship evolves over the next few years and arrives at their wedding day, but Gar has been speaking and meeting with Albert all the while as he struggles with the confines of a faithful relationship.
The message portrayed by THIS MUCH is incredibly powerful. It successfully exposes and explores how so many aspects of modern life have evolved, yet the ideal of marriage is still coveted by the vast majority of us. This very construct was designed by and for heterosexual couples thousands of years ago and this play proposes that non-heterosexual relationships should aspire to something different, undefined by custom. The story is propelled forward by Lewis Hart who, as Gar, oozes uncertainty, desperation and internal conflict with exceptional sensitivity. His appreciation for the complexity and fragility of human emotion leads to some truly heart-breaking moments. He is supported fantastically by Simon Carroll-Jones and Will Alexander as Anthony and Albert respectively. Carroll-Jones’ tightly coiled focus is wonderfully offset by Alexander’s relaxed, suggestive movement, both of which serve as realistic depictions of the attitudes adopted by gay men with regard to relationships. The trio’s collective intensified physicality highlights their convoluted involvement with one another and sees them circling, lifting and dancing with one another in pure expressions of emotion. Threaded through the story is the notion of humanity as a social, family-orientated species. Essentially, we all want to belong and feel loved. Yet, what is the new-age alternative to marriage?
The staging is minimal and directs the focus fully onto the actors. The lack of a ‘backstage’ area keeps each of the characters under scrutiny and is particularly effective given that the story hinges partly on privacy and secrecy. As the relationship between Gar and Anthony builds, constricts and ultimately crumbles the stage becomes cluttered, tidied and then strewn with debris, leaving the characters spinning in stunned silence.
The uncomfortable air of unsated lust and wavering loyalties is fully realised through John Fitzpatrick’s stunted and indirect script. It perfectly exposes and amplifies the often celebrated instant digital connection to multiple suitors (through dating apps) and portrays a deeper concern within the gay community: namely finding someone to spend the rest of one’s life with. THIS MUCH is a fantastic assessment of the modern gay relationship and asks us what we actually want from companionship if not stability and love and pleads with us to discover the contemporary, practical equivalent of marriage.
Reviewed by Alex Foott