REVIEW: CONTROL (Hen & Chickens) ★★★★★
Gay theatre has a torrid and troublesome history. The love that dare not speak its’ name in the street let alone on a stage was codified and hidden. The great gay stage writers Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and William Inge projected themselves into barely concealed emotional archetypes before the sexual and social liberations of the late 1960’s plunged the love into an agenda-driven posthumous period of flag waving bravado like ‘Boys in the Band’. Once outed we became the humor shoving stereotype, the cliché ‘best-friend’, ‘bitch’ or the means to an end innuendo. No less valuable but just the one-note thank you. We are the ‘boys’, we are the ‘angels’ or we are ‘torch songs’.
By the 1980’s and during the AIDS crisis, a voice was found that paved the way for some signature work from ‘Bent’ to ‘Bloolips’ we were awash with origination and imagination but alongside these were a huge amount of bad, poorly written, issue-led melodramas, kitchen-sink monologue of the soul-searching, personal perspective … the ‘mother cried when I told her’ variety. It wasn’t a laugh-a-minute down the Gay Sweatshop.
So you’ll have to forgive me but when someone says a play about gay domestic violence I am more likely to book a plane than a ticket. ‘Control’ however is a fascinating diversion from well-trodden ground. An ensemble piece that uses the theme of power in relationships to hold a mirror up to a young man who confronts a controlling partner for the first time and how this impacts and implodes on his life.
It’s skillfully written using a well-cast and tight ensemble to magnify how insidious the use of power, however small, in a relationship can be. And in a world where relationships are idealized how that power can be easily heightened or indeed elevated to a scarier, more threatening level. Writer Tim McArthur has unlocked a new and refreshing perspective and isn’t scared of addressing how sometimes passivity unlocks the worst in people despite their protestations that their intentions were good.
Director Guy Retallack has used both the economical space cast to maximum effect creating an in the round dimension and this staging allows for a full exploration of the relationship dynamics through presence and contact. The cast is strong and convincing; David Archer is tangible as the conflicted Stephen that avoids the pitfalls of twinkism, Lewis Rae is convincing as the multiple personality Jeremy, and there is classy comedic support from Jo Wickham’s skyping protective mother knitting through her worries about her son in that there London with ‘the gays’ and Kitty Whitelaw’s clingy but concerned best friend. Ben Woods is on hand as the catalyst Carl to bring the whole house down in on itself.
Control is also funny. Which is its charm and at brutal disarm to some of the darker sides and emotions on show. Control is well worth your time.
It’s bound to transfer but get to see if while you can.
Reviewed by Ruby Blue