Patrick Wilde's new play takes a sardonic look at the notion that we're now comfortable with the idea of gays being assimilated into mainstream culture. As one of the characters points out, they're everywhere now, from Graham Norton to Michael Portillo. But this development has not been welcomed by everybody. The play's title is derived from the favourite phrase of columnist, Richard Littlejohn, always keen to castigate the gay scene.
It is this discomfort that Wilde taps into. How is it, he asks, that for all the changes that have been made, gays are still not wholly accepted in today's society?
The play is centred on Philip, a writer who wants to change the world but is reduced to writing TV soaps. His idea of a Dusty Springfield play is rejected until the producers take up the option of a more hard-hitting story if he's prepared to make changes and compromise the story. The lives of Philip and his friend Max (and their gay experiences of the 1980s) are contrasted with young gays today.
The trouble is that Wilde can't resist adding everything into the pot. Like that other 1980s throwback, the cocktail, restraint is the key - a heady mixture of ingredients can be rather too much. Here, the playwright offers us AIDS politics, male bonding, the rise of boy bands, the nostalgia craze, writer's block, a satirical look at TV and film commissioning, and child abuse.
It's just too much. And his determination to combine comedy with polemic means You Couldn't Make It Up sometimes seems a bit distorted. Wilde directed the play himself: it might have been that another director could have cut out some of the excesses.
However, the production does benefit from some strong performances by David Paul West as Kevin, the young rent boy trying to come to terms with his past, and by Adam Redmayne as a world-weary Philip.
And it's good to see a play that tries to deal with some of the realities of gay life in the 1990s. As Philip angrily notes, clause 28 is still on the statute books and, aside from the tragic Justin Fashanu, no gay footballer has come out. I suppose there are still some taboos that are just one step too far.
Perhaps it's appropriate that You Couldn't Make It Up opens in London the same week as the Sun's announcement that its payment for the first "Big Brother bonk" will be limited to heterosexual couples. As long as the country's biggest-selling paper maintains its homophobic stance, plays such as this will continue to be important.
- Maxwell Cooter