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A CurtainUp London Review
F***ing Men and Naked Boys Singing
The play opens with a GI Steve (Matthew Clancy) and an encounter in the park with John the Escort (Shai Matheson). Steve is in denial about his sexual preference and assures John he just wants to try sex with a man once. Steve is agitated and jumpy, nervous, "Iím not gay", he says, "I might die". John is much more in touch with his feelings but it is Steve who moves on to a steam room in a gym, just clad in a towel, where he meets Marco the Graduate Student (Chris Polick), while John sits at the rear of the stage looking on. Marco goes to the home of a provocative, flirtatious, Enfant Terrible, College Student Kyle (James Kristian) as a paid tutor to help him with his academic work. Marco has relationship issues and expresses these. Kyle has been onstage since the beginning of the play, surfing the net for older guys on his laptop.
Kyle meets Leo (Timothy Lone) who is in a "committed" relationship with Jack the banker (Phil Willmott). Leo and Jack have a rule, sex with another man is ok but they mustnít see the other person again, itís once only. Leoís encounter puts the pzazz back in their relationship and Jack is inspired to meet Ryan the beautiful Porn Star (Adam Unze). Jack sets Ryan up in a hotel room where Ryan meets Sammy, a posing playwright (Dan Ford). Here the power relationship is not so much money as perceived artistic opportunity as the ghastly playwright spins his HIV status as "Iím HIV enhanced, HIV gifted" said without a trace of irony. Celebrity actor and married man Brandon (Stephen Billington) has a one off encounter with the playwright which turns nasty. Brandon turns to television journalist Donald (Patrick Poletti) wanting to go public with his bi-sexuality. Finally Donald completes the chain with John the Escort.
There is so much more to this piece that the subtle and played down sexual encounters which are non explicit and often take place off stage. In the course of the chain we look at fidelity and loyalty, at deception and denial, at economic factors and power games as well as HIV and the context of what it means to be a gay man in New York today. I can understand why the audience is returning to see the play again as the depth of performances, direction and writing make it a many layered work.
Showing half an hour after the end of F***ing Men is the musical revue, the London version of Naked Boys Singing! 2009. This isnít a double bill but a separate ticketed event at £17.50 each show or a combined ticket costing £30 for both shows. Phil Willmott who directs both shows has altered the American format for Naked Boys and set the eight men within the context of a show audition which eventually requires them to take off their clothes so that they are at least partially clothed for the first three quarters of an hour. This delay stokes up the anticipation but after a few minutes you start looking at their faces again.
They sing about their insecurities and romances, fantasies and the names they give their penises, a Jewish man celebrates the Bris to Israeli song rhythms and Leigh Thompson the pianist (fully clothed) shares his adoration of Robert Mitchum. The cast are very good musical theatre singers, dancers and actors so the standard of performance is very high. My favourite song is the lyrical "Nothing But the Radio On" and for choreography the thrilling, pumping, gym set "Muscle Addiction". There are comedy songs and jazzy numbers and Phil Willmott keeps his promise that this is not a sleazy strip show but as I found it, a jokey, fun time with men in the buff. "Now you get what you paid for!" they tease the audience just as all is revealed. Unlike Calendar Girls just down St Martinís Lane, these guys are the real thing!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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