Every gay man in 2018 knows how it feels to scroll through endless profiles on dating apps, see pictures of people who look 10 times better than you do, get depressed, and eat chocolate. Guy The Musical attempts to explore these issues of body image and self-esteem, and the negative influence that these apps can have on us. The show had a run at the Bunker Theatre earlier this year to strong reviews, and has been playing this week at the Kings Head Theatre.
It tells the story of Guy (played by Brendan Matthew). Guy is shy and gay, and spends nearly all of his time in his flat messaging people on Grindr. His friend and flatmate Tyler (Steve Banks) tries to get him to socialise more but Guy finds it easier to hide behind his phone screen where he tries in vain to make meaningful connections to the local population of shirtless headless profiles. He finds his “soul mate” on there (there’s an alarm bell if ever you needed one), but as he suffers from low self esteem and beating himself up for not having the perfect body, he goes into panic mode. So, in a plotline used in countless gay movies (which never ever goes well), his insecurities cause him to use Tyler’s photos in place of his own, leading his new perfect man to believe that Guy is actually a hot toned stud.
The obvious ‘mistaken identity’ confusion ensues, roping in the other two cast members Adam Braidley, playing the dual role of “soul mate” Joe and arrogant personal trainer Dom, and Seann Miley-Moore (seen on the 2015 series of X Factor) as the athletic Aziz who starts to build a connection with Guy before everything goes predictably pear-shaped.
There is no set to speak of, just an empty stage with a black curtain (although this isn’t surprising within such a small venue, which only houses 110 seats). The book and lyrics by Leoe Mercer raise a few laughs, with some accurate and all-too-familiar observations on what conversation and manners are like on Grindr. But the show offers nothing original in the way of perspective on gay life, dwelling only on easy stereotypes and throwing some token issues in and lots of “be yourself” messages to fill it out.
The actors are largely likeable and give decent enough performances, although the acting varies in quality throughout the cast. Brendan Matthew and Adam Braidley are probably the strongest, along I suspect the guy in the front row will give Steve Banks a few bonus points for the lap dance.
Musically it isn’t veryy strong, with many of the songs sounding like background music to a mobile phone advert. The 14 tracks, written by Stephen Hyde, form a musical that you wouldn’t really want to listen to once you got back home, and there aren’t really any standout numbers. The vocals from the performers range from occasionally impressive to sometimes wobbly and flat.
The two fundamental problems are that you don’t believe Guy and Tyler would really be friends, and that Guy is inherently unlikeable, and it has nothing to do with his size. He’s a drip. And not very bright. Who is stupid enough to use the photo of one of their best friends and flatmate?! Insecurity is tough, we all have something we’re fighting or inner demons telling us we’re worthless, but he does himself no favours at all. He tries a new approach for 10 minutes, gives up, and wonders why things don’t change. He also doesn’t seem to notice the double standard of getting upset when people rule him out based on his looks, when he messages his ‘soul mate’ based largely on what the guy looks like.
Stories need a hero. Even better stories have an underdog overcoming their problems and coming out stronger on the other side, even if they’ve made a few mis-steps on the way. I think we’re supposed to root for Guy. Or feel sorry for him. Mostly I just wanted to slap him.
The show places a lot of judgement on people basing attraction on looks, forgetting that this is an extremely natural human trait. We’re driven by aesthetics. We buy clothes, and cars, and wallpaper, because of how they look. Not wanting to talk to someone on a dating app because you’re not attracted to them physically isn’t a crime. Yes, dating decisions shouldn’t be driven solely on looks (we all know that the most attractive of people turn out to be dull as dishwater after 3 minutes of conversation), but looks do play an important part, and this show doesn’t seem to accept that; everyone who doesn’t want to talk to Guy is automatically shallow, and Guy is the hard-done-by victim. Sorry but I just didn’t buy it.
The production feels distinctly ‘fringey’ but without the sparks indicating that it’s destined for more. It feels heartless to write so negatively about a new British musical, but this felt really quite amateur in its production; compared with something like Soho Cinders, which also explores gay themes and has a gay relationship at its centre but is populated by engaging, believable characters as well as brilliant songs. Guy The Musical comes across like a piece of A Level Drama coursework written by someone who has been rejected a lot on dating apps and wanted to turn that into something positive. Which is a decent enough reason. It just isn’t very well done, painting a picture only in the broadest of stereotypical strokes; gay men are either promiscuous and shallow, whiny and insecure, or drama queens. As any modern gay man will tell you, there are a lot more colours of the rainbow than that.
It’s a shame that “Guy – The Musical” doesn’t offer a more positive future, either for gay dating or new musicals.
Reviewed by Rob Bartley