There’s the potential for conflict in Peter Darney’s verbatim piece, which brings to life the real accounts of a group of gay men. Darney approached these men using Grindr and then interviewed about them about their experiences of chemsex parties, group sex and ‘chills’. The piece then takes these interviews and moulds them into a one-act naturalistic play, as five men gather for a chill – and this is where the conflict in so much verbatim theatre lies; there’s a delicate balance to be struck between the veracity of the interviews, and the dramatic action of the play. 5 Guys Chillin’ manages to achieves this balance with integrity.
As the audience settle in, the party’s getting started. Four men are in a living room, drinking, dancing and taking drugs. They put on some music and get changed into something a little more comfortable, as their perfect host (Matthew Bunn) makes sure everyone’s ok. There an absolute realness to this party that you don’t see very often on the stage. They aren’t just pretending to have a good time; they’re completely convincing in it. Every detail is considered, from the lines of coke to the sex toys scattered about the room. Then a new guy arrives (Adi Chugh) and the thing is, he’s never really been to one of these chills before. The presence of this new arrival lends into to the discussions which subsequently make up the bulk of the play.
There is a slightly creeping sense of exposition which in a way can’t be helped. When you ask a group of men what happens at these parties, and then turn their responses into dialogue, what inevitably follows is a lot more telling than showing. These characters are completely engaged with each other and the night they’re having, but at the same time they’re talking an awful lot about other experiences they’ve had in the past, or the kind of things that normally happen – instead of just doing them.
This even creeps into the language somewhat – for the most part the dialogue has a very credible, conversational tone. They engage with each other, talk over one another, interrupt, joke, shout and scream. And even when they find themselves ambling into longer monologues, it’s handled in a skilful way which doesn’t detract from the natural flow of the piece. But there’s also a slightly tame feel to the language they use; particularly the terms ‘sex act’ and ‘having sex’ in place of anything stronger. Presumably this is true to the interviews, but it seems that in a charged-up, sexual setting, these men would probably say ‘fuck’ a lot more than they do here.
The power of 5 Guys Chillin’ however, is its emphasis on the characters within it and not the audience watching. It would have been easy for Darney to play to the viewers, and though we’re invited in by the natural humour and poignancy of the piece, we’re never pandered to. The audience are merely invisible spectators to the scene.
Despite each cast member providing voice to a collection of original stories, their fictional characters are carefully and skilfully developed. Bunn is particularly fantastic as the hostess with the most-ess. He’s the main source of the much of the play’s hilarity, but also sensitive and poignant. Michael Matovski and Elliot Hadley are two-thirds of a complex, open polygamous relationship. Cesare Scarpone plays his American character with a great deal of delicacy and intelligence. Chugh sometimes feels a little stilted in his delivery, but possesses a certain magnetism nonetheless.
In all, 5 Guys Chillin’ is a contemporary and crucial production. It’s well-crafted, convincingly performed and with a notable commitment to the genre of verbatim theatre.