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The Perils of Monogamy
Above the Stag specialises in telling LGBTQIA+ stories and has revived Jake Brunger’s highly amusing Four Play, which successfully combines comedy and a serious look at issues like commitment and monogamy among young gay men in 21st century London.
One of the great joys of living in London is its thriving small theatre scene. Tiny venues can often be found above pubs all over town and this is how Above the Stag started life. It was originally attached to a gay pub across the river in Victoria, called, naturally, The Stag. It can now be found in the railway arches on Albert Embankment, conveniently close to Vauxhall station and the Vauxhall Tavern, one of South London’s landmark gay pubs. Above the Stag offers two stages, a 100-seater Main House and a 60-seater Studio Theatre. Front of house, there’s a large friendly bar where you can pick up your tickets and relax with a drink before the play. It’s also a good place to dissect the production over a beer or G&T afterwards.
The focus of the drama is firmly on the pitfalls and advantages of monogamy in long-term relationships and specifically how they apply to two twentysomething gay couples. They are navigating a world in which the trappings of heterosexual love – ie marriage and children – are now available alongside the temptations of online hook-ups.
The starting point is a monologue from Rafe (played by Ashley Byam). He seems to be addressing the audience as he describes his marvellous monogamous relationship of seven years plus with Pete (Keeran Blessie). Neither of them has had any sexual experience with anyone else. There’s a sudden lurch in tone when it turns out that Rafe is, in fact, propositioning attractive friend Michael (Declan Spaine). He and Pete would both like to have sex with him – separately – and then to return to their “perfect” lives together. The rules of this game are clear. The sex is to happen only once and Michael’s partner Andrew (Marc Mackinnon) must never, ever know.
As things quickly and inevitably unravel, there are many laugh-out-loud moments. But this is also a moving exploration of jealousy and compatibility in relationships. The character of Andrew, the outsider who views himself as a six out of ten, is particularly well developed and cleverly played by Mackinnon. A small theatre like Above the Stag’s Studio puts the audience close enough to the action to study the actors’ facial expressions and pick up on the nuances of their performances. This can, of course, be unforgiving and backfire when the acting isn’t up to scratch but luckily Four Play’s strong cast are all up to the task.
There’s also much to enjoy in designer Carrie-Ann Stein’s simple but ingenious kitchen set. As the action moves between the flats of both couples the fact that they appear to have identikit flats is put to good comic use.
Four Play is not only entertaining, it is also thought-provoking and it’s well worth making the trip to Vauxhall to see it.
Four Play runs until 22 February
72 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7TP