By Robert Chesley
The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1QN to 23 November 2019.
Tues – Sat 8.45 pm. Mat Sun 4.45pm.
Runs 80 mins No interval
TICKETS: 0207 226 8561
Review: William Russell 1 November.
It is apparently 30 years since this dreary play was last seen in London and if it takes another 30 for it to return to the stage here it would be too soon. Described as a pornographic elegy with redeeming social value and a hymn to the queer men of San Francisco in twenty telephone calls, many of them dirty it is admittedly very well performed by Tibu Fortes and Tom Joyner as a couple indulging in telephone sex in 1985. JR (Joyner) calls Bert (Fortes) allegedly out of the blue after which they embark on a series of smutty and juvenile chats aimed at achieving orgasm taking their clothes off in the process. It is, of course, the San Francisco gay world when Aids was just over the horizon about to destroy it so the end is hardly a surprise – a call gets repeatedly made, caller keeps getting the answering machine and then – well let us not spoil the surprise.
It is performed on the set of the previous play, which meant it was impossible to see the bed in which JR performs his various activities from where I was seated, and I was not alone. It should not have been beyond the wit of director Ben Anderson to move the wretched thing so that we could all enjoy Mr Joyner’s efforts to rise to the occasion. Today, of course, they would be doing it on Skype or Instagram and not lying about what their hands are up to while clamping a telephone receiver to their ear and would have the added thrill of seeing what the other was doing.
The play caused a considerable backlash when it was first staged in America from the usual moral suspects, but today it has been overtaken by many far better works, which leaves the question as to whether as a seminal one it is worth reviving. The backlash may have contributed to a failure to alert people to the threat to health Aids would present to communities indulging freely in intercourse – after all it did not result in pregnancy and a pill cured the usual troubles in a matter of days. But whether or not it did the shock element has long gone, male nudity and simulated sex is everywhere, the smut is anything but inventive and the on line friendship that develops, while sweet, is not enough to give it any dramatic power. In other words – really not worth reviving even as a historical curiosity.
But if you want to see two personable youngish men in their underwear, and occasionally without, simulating masturbation and talking about other sexual practices then this is for you. Had I not been there to write this review, but as a punter, and had there been an interval, I would have left. The 3 stars are for the actors.
Bert: Tibu Fortes.
J.R.: Tom Joyner.
Director: Ben Anderson.
Set & Costume Designer: Lee Newby.
Intimacy Directors: Enric Ortuno, Yarit Dor.
Lighting Designer: Clancy Finn.
Sound Designer: Tingying Dong.
Production photography: Nick Rutter.