REVIEW: Grindr the Opera’ (Above the Stag Theatre) ★★★★★
There I was, finally sitting in the new Above The Stag Theatre, about to watch the critically-acclaimed ‘Grindr the Opera‘, after hearing nothing but sparkling reviews since its inception – yet I was actually feeling more apprehensive than excited. Why? When a show has such a cult following as this, when you’ve heard rave reviews about it from various sources, the bar is set particularly high. The extremely well-known dating app for gay, bi, trans and queer people is the modern-day watering hole for meeting like-minded individuals, whether it be to find everlasting love or to have a casual fling. This operatic take on the app’s influence tells the story of four interlocking male lives as they delve into the online world, facing the delights and challenges of sharing one’s body and mind with a stranger. All the while, these events are closely watched over and influenced by Grindr himself, a striking physical embodiment of the app. The big question: does it live up to the hype?
Without a shadow of a doubt, yes. This show has everything. It hits all of the comedic – and, unexpectedly, philosophical – spots you would expect, exploring numerous truths about the 21st-century approach to connecting with someone on a physical and/or emotional level. The content is uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has been a user of people-filtering apps: the anxiety, the ‘rush’ of excitement as you ‘match’ with someone, repeatedly questioning what a complete stranger may be thinking of you at that exact moment, how soon it is to start mentioning how many cats you have, etc. Then there’s the physical meet-ups, in all of their glory or nightmarish tragedy, swiftly followed by the after-effects: regret, exuberance, loneliness, vindication…? Twenty minutes in to this performance and you will be acutely aware of the surprising complexity of technology-driven intimacy.
It’s not news to anyone that we’ve become a culture of swipers and scrollers, so the lengths we now go to to create a ‘meaningful’ connection have altered drastically. This script is written to be eye-poppingly bold and hand-to-mouth outrageous, with an entire song dedicated to the art of fellatio and some extremely vivid descriptions about bodily fluids – but they are expertly mirrored with numerous poignant, hard-hitting scenes that appeal to our vulnerable sides. There are moments so relatable that you find yourself utterly gripped, and that’s when you realise that Grindr has your absolute attention – hook, line and sinker.
It’s not difficult to see why Christian Lunn has been cast as the sentient representation of Grindr: he possesses a superb vocal range and a commanding stage presence, fulfilling the character of the show’s dark overlord with such natural ease. Dereck Walker plays the role of the older demographic Grindr-user (Don), and his sensitive portrayal of a generation facing its own challenges with the LGBTQ+ movement was a key contributor to the show’s nod to representation. Ryan Anderson (Tom) was a stand-out performer, with a voice that will send chills down your spine more than once.
Playwright Erik Ransom states that Grindr has the power to be both validating and toxic depending on one’s mindset when using it, and that he intends for the production to prompt a discussion into what the ‘New Normal’ is. Indeed, ‘Grindr the Opera‘ is refreshing in that it does not make a statement about the moral compass of the app, but chooses to present a variety of different circumstances that using the platform can lead to, whilst drawing attention to the fact that it is merely a tool controlled by the fingertips of a human. A cleverly written, highly entertaining show with a philosophical edge, leaving us to draw own conclusions about modern-day methods of attaining intimacy.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
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