CIRCA | London, Old Red Lion Theatre

It’s hard-hitting to watch a gay man (unnamed) journey through the pitfalls of love across his whole life: a middle-England teenager (Thomas Flynn) at the start, and an old man in a dystopian future (Antony Gabriel) at the end. And yet, despite all the awkward encounters and abortive loves, there remains a hopeful core to writer Tom Ratcliffe’s script.

Awkward hook-ups on Grindr, failed romances; we’ve seen this on TV, right? But what makes this production so theatrical is the multi role-playing by the cast of only five actors. The “circa” of the title becomes all the clearer as many almost identical scenes play out, with the same actors, but the roles reversed: for example, a scene where an older man seeks a night with a pretty young thing plays out twice. The play has a great deal to say about sex, but it’s worth mentioning that despite the play’s publicity, there is no nudity.

Predominantly, we see the man is in his thirties (Daniel Abelson), navigating the roots of his desire for a married-with-kids lifestyle, in a modern, gay world. A monologue where, waiting for a rent boy dressed in drag (also Thomas Flynn), he talks about the hours he’s spent playing the conservative, American board game, The Game Of Life, is provocative and profound.

It’s brave to attempt telling a gay man’s complex life story in under two hours, but the result is that it’s not always that fun. To be sure, the misery of the man’s conflict with his heteronormative ideals, and the reality of the gay world around him, is the play’s central theme. But the few injections of humour arrive very welcome. A thought-provoking and emotional new play.

Circa plays in London until 30 March 2019.

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