The setting is the Associates Bar - a venue for the masuline gay men of Manchester where leather and chains is the dress code of the day. You may be expecting something seedy but instead you hear conversations about Quiche and Corrie and how the standard of M&S food is not what it used to be.
Rob Ellis has written a punchy, witty and inventive play which mixes the codes and conventions of a soap, a Mrs Brown style sit-com meets and edgy love story. The bar scenes in particular are very strong and have an air of Early Doors about them - in that the dialogue is sometimes very naturalistic.
The plot revolves around an arrogant gay man - Sean (Rob Ellis) and his visits to the leather bar. We evesdrop on conversations, and find out that nothing is what it seems and that beneath the swagger and chains, is a vulnerable young man - desperately seeking far more than a stereotypical Susan.
Where Fetish Knights excels is the script; it's bawdy, ferociously funny and has cracking quotable lines. At times though, ome of the jokes fall flat as they feel like a gag too far. References to Dusty Springfield's cancer for example, hit the floor like a led balloon. But for the most part though - the humour is spot on and delivered with panache by a very game cast.
Some of the characters simply serve as plot devices; Nikki Sanderson's Reality TV star Julie Tunstall and Sue Devaney's Janice Spendlove - seem slightly shoe-horned into the narrative but both of these performers have great comic timing throughout. The star of the show is Dean Sullivan as Kenneth Cadbury-Love - the ageing leather queen with an acid tongue. He is brilliant and every time he is on stage, the play really comes to life.
Rob Ellis' acting is not quite as good as his writing. He is more than adequate but opposite him Neal Ashton plays a much more likeable character - Sean's best friend Jake Malone and he invests so much warmth into the role, that you cannot help but root for him. Claire King as god as you want her to be but is missed when off the stage as her part is too small to be entirely memorable.
There are some opportunities missed as the shallow lifestyle of Reality TV stars could be juxtaposed more fully with the empty life of Sean. He is more fond of botox than he is of himself and this could be more explicitly linked with the life of Julie Tunstall, as they are both so similar. Also, many of the lines, however funny start to resemble Victoria Wood's, particularly those of Janice - so everything she says has a punch-line in which to insert canned laughter. The play is also about twenty minutes too long and starts to feel drawn out, particularly when we find out Sean's secret.
If Rob Ellis edits the play down to two hours, and smooths over some of the rough edges, Fetish Knights could return to bigger venues as it has a great deal to offer audiences, particularly if he keeps replacing the cast members each time, as it will keep the piece fresh.
But, there is something warm beneath the swear words and central premise that keep you laughing and make the play very entertaining. It's great to see former soap stars enjoying themselves in this frothy comedy and holding their own on stage in a play which is good (not always clean) fun, and unashamedly out and proud.