Theatre Review: Four Play (Above The Stag, London) ★★★★

Gay relationships are hard! Maybe it’s because it’s winter, maybe it’s because of Brexit, maybe it’s because that’s just life, but London’s season of domestic gay complications continues with Jake Brunger’s Four Play.

London’s LGBTQ focused theatre, Above The Stag, has relaunched its studio space with this tight tale of two gay couples dealing with their fears and desires. Rafe and Pete have been a couple since they came out but neither has ever slept with another man. So they hatch a plan. Find someone they know, who they’re not too close to, who will be up for the idea of having sex with them both, that way they can get it out of their system and settle down. They approach the handsome Michael, an acquaintance who happens to be in an open relationship with an old friend from university, Andrew. The catch, Rafe and Pete don’t want anyone to know about this one-off arrangement, not even Andrew.

Ashley Byam, Keeran Blessie and Declan Spaine. Photo by PBGSTUDIOS.

Does monogamy work in gay relationships? This seems to be a question that no one can answer. Is a commitment without some kind of sacrifice worthless? Is it possible to completely separate sexual desire from love without any kind of insecurity? Ultimately, how can we navigate the multiple desires of our hearts, our brains and our cocks? There isn’t a universal answer to any of these questions, making it fertile soil for drama.

Rafe is afraid of losing Pete. Pete has desires that Rafe can’t fulfil. Andrew is a larger man, harbouring insecurities about his relationship with the more traditionally desirable Michael. Michael loves Andrew and sees no issue in pushing the rules of their open relationship.

Jake Brunger does a great job weaving the multiple motivations of the four characters and keeping the well-worn material fresh and funny. Ashley Byam delivers Rafe’s ‘fish-out-of-water’ awkwardness with pristine glee. Keeran Blessie’s Pete is more level-headed at first with an adventurous twinkle in his eye. Declan Spaine is relaxed and warmly sexual as the object of desire, Michael. 

Marc MacKinnon. Photo by PBGSTUDIOS

But the night belongs to Marc MacKinnon who, as Andrew, gets some of the best lines and the best moment of catharsis in the whole play. MacKinnon has to juggle being the show’s comedic center, but also deliver the toughest speeches. The character of Andrew is introduced late, but eventually moves center stage to form the heart of the show.

Four Play seems to mark a welcome shift in direction for Above The Stag under the artistic direction of Andrew Beckett. The newly renovated space feels fresher and more professional than before and as a statement of intent, this well-written and performed queer play moves the theatre into an interesting place.

Four Play plays at the Above The Stag Theatre till February 22. Tickets are on sale from the theatre’s website.

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