With a title as face-slappingly brazen as this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Joe DiPietro’s renowned play about gay men and their views on sex and relationships would overflow with aggressive carnality and emotional withdrawal. This is of course partially the case, yet F*cking Men is also infused with sobering honesty and a frankly depressing examination of the gay community’s desperation to connect with each other. Worryingly, this piece is almost a decade old yet the experiences and attitudes held by gay men today have not evolved at all from those written into the play.
A tapestry of sexual encounters unfold, depicting relationships in full bloom, casual acquaintances steeped in lust and desire and complex interactions combining the two. A young man sits on a bench and is approached by another from the local barracks. An army man, he is obstinate about his sexuality and insists that his proposition to pay £40 for sexual relief is strictly a business arrangement. We see him later in a sauna with another man. A tutor is coerced by his pupil into foreplay and a couple who have been together for 8 years struggle with their thoughts of infidelity. Similar in format to Love Actually, F*cking Men shows us the incestuous nature of the gay community. One person’s experience links to another’s whose future hook ups and relationships interconnect with hundreds of others, eternally looping back to the same people.
Joe DiPietro’s innately provocative piece about gay men and the balance between connection and instant gratification will undoubtedly strike a nerve with any member of the gay community. The familiar scenarios he portrays are often raw and sensitive, exposing a community constantly battling against but also reinforcing self-doubt and toxic masculinity. Mark Barford’s direction is sleek and simple. The trio of actors rotate seamlessly while James Nicholson’s electropop sound design continually harks back to the gay nightclub scene.
It takes a while for F*cking Men to settle. The first 20 minutes are overly energised, the character’s speech patterns don’t appear natural and every sexual experience ends with both parties shouting expletives. Characters are sometimes more caricature and while this is good for some instant laughs from the audience, the scenes suffer. However, the latter half is more enjoyable and the recurring characters’ development is ultimately well performed. Haydn Whiteside takes the lead on all the younger characters portrayed throughout the piece. His depiction of the ignorant young gay man is very accurate and his appreciation for subtle humour and comic timing is well honed. Harper James does a great job of anchoring the cast in realistic representations of the various men we see in these scenarios and Richard De Lisle’s varied roles are rounded, believable and easy to identify.
As an exploration of the gay community, F*cking Men represents men as selfish and narcissistic but ultimately socially desperate. The struggle with sexuality and the idea of gay men not being ‘trapped by monogamy’ are thoroughly assessed which brings depth to the plot. A good piece with some truly thought provoking moments.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
F*CKING MEN plays at The Vaults until 4 December 2016