“Netflix and chill” takes on new meaning in Five Guys Chillin’. Well, the “chill” part does, and is also substituted with “chill out”. Rather than awkward hetero teenagers using the word to arrange a sexual encounter, in this context it’s multiplied by whatever factor the host fancies to make a drug fuelled sex party, usually in someone’s home. The verbatim play, carved out of more than 50 hours of interview transcript, graphically details typical chill out behaviour as well as frank discussion of issues within the gay community. Despite many funny moments, some great staging, and the raising of important points, there is precious little plot; this makes the production more of a live interview with the questions omitted rather than a play that tells a story.
The performances are a mixed bag, and the script doesn’t support the actors by giving them many opportunities to respond. They speak in broken up monologues rather than dialoguing with each other; through they listen to what each other says, there is no natural conversation. It sounds rather fake and forced, because it is. Matthew Bunn’s J. is the notable exception, the hilarious host who loves drugs, but is unemployed and struggling with his HIV status. There are a couple of gorgeous sequences, by movement director Chris Cuming, that provide more atmosphere and characterisation than the script does; without showing explicit acts they express the drugged up, party vibe in the guys’ heads.
There’s a fair amount of gross-out humour, made all the more horrific by knowing that the events described actually happened at some point in real life. From drinking piss out of someone’s arse to having a preference for being pounded by gonorrhoea-ridden cocks because they’re self lubricating (#sorrynotsorry), there’s no shortage of bodily function nastiness. The predominantly male, and presumably gay, audience also find the descriptions repulsive. This is all balanced by serious talk about protection, STIs, drug addiction and the desperate search for intimacy within these casual encounters. Most culturally unique of the characters, Amrou Al-Kadhi plays character PJ of Pakistani decent who struggles to balance familial expectations with being an otherwise-out gay man. It’s a poignant reminder that people in this country still run the risk of being ostracised by their families because of their sexuality.
The confessional, eye-opening Five Guys Chillin’ is certainly a cultural experience for those not familiar with chill outs, but as a piece of theatre, the solely-verbatim script is a let down. Not that it doesn’t have some great moments, but a lack of dramatic arc and dialogue cobbled together from material that was originally solo doesn’t hold up for over an hour.
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