First premiering in London in 2009, Joe DiPietro’s play about the modern gay relationships is back for a new run at the King’s Head Theatre.
F*cking Men explores what it is to be a gay man, examining the culture around casual sex in a collection of scenes featuring various different characters. The play looks at the pressure on gay men to behave a certain way, including denouncing monogamy and other ideals of straight relationships.
The show takes its unique structure from Arthur Schnitzler’s revolutionary La Ronde, which uses interlocking scenes between pairs of lovers. Each character shares two consecutive scenes with a character from the previous scene. This is not the first play to take this structure and use it to examine gay men, though it is one of the more contemporary takes.
F*cking Men excels in creating portraits of very different men in a couple of short snapshots of their lives. A cast of three, including Richard De Lisle, Liam Darby and August Ohlsson, share the task of creating ten different characters as far removed as an adulterous banker and an army recruit experiencing sex and love with a man for the first time. De Lisle has the most diverse and meaty parts, with his portrayal of a renowned but haunted journalist a highlight of the evening. Darby is effortlessly cool as a closeted film star and painfully human as an unhappy partner, while Ohlsson’s younger characters are funny and hopeful about the future.
As a show that is often about sex, F*cking Men does a lot to put its audience at ease from the off. It is not afraid to show sex and nudity and does so in a blatant way, which feels open and freeing. This is something fully embraced by the actors from the start and allows audiences to concentrate on individual stories and emotion.
The action takes place in the centre of the theatre, with audiences sitting on three sides around the stage. This staging decision adds to audience immersion in the stories and characters, who feel close to the audience from any seat inside the intimate King’s Head Theatre. The set is basic but effective, rearranging furniture to create saunas and bedrooms alike, though some scene changes took a long time and the use of the same music did get tiring by the end.
The structure is enjoyable if a little rigid, as per La Ronde’s play. Scenes between pairs varied in length and content, with some more effective than others. It is difficult to form any sort of feeling or attachment to some of them, based purely on their lack of stage time – though each tells a different, important story. There are times when scenes begin to drag, though I remained attentive throughout.
Could F*cking Men, ten years from its original premiere, be updated to better reflect 2018? It feels like it might be, in the wake of increasingly right-wing political regimes and the communication revolution we’ve had via popular and social media. That said, F*cking Men still clearly speaks to audiences and has many an interesting thing to say.
F*cking Men runs at the King’s Head Theatre until June 2.