What I cannot help but realise, very quickly, is that standing in the middle of one of Brighton’s more dungeonesque basement gay nightclubs, with a group of total strangers, staring at a totally naked, and totally shaved, actor is, probably, one of the most uncomfortable experiences of this year’s fringe festival – but I suppose there were a couple of clues in the title.
The naked homo in question is Martin Lewton, an experienced actor, writer and director and “Star of the Festival” award winner for his solo performance of Billy Budd Sailor in 2011. Sadly, he is unlikely to be this year’s recipient as, although at times thought-provoking and occasional moving, this year’s offering is to some extent lacking in star quality.
Theatre North’s production contains a number of scenes, tonight we see 11 out of the 20 or so that have been created, depicting various aspects of gay life. Some are fictitious, some political and some deal with the more extreme elements of sexuality. Andrew McKinnon’s staging of the piece is simple, with each of the scenes taking place in a different area of the nightclub.
The one-word titles of the scenes give clues as to the content, although with some the title may need a little explanation. Darkroom, Bondage, Edward, Beach, Gym, C**k and Pride, all fall into the fairly self-explanatory category, but Dog, Stella, Birth and Match are a little more obscure.
Birth is, as one might expect, the first scene we see and it is the musings of a gay baby, wondering how he will turn out when he grows up and wondering at what point he will inform his parents. The laughter is more of the nervous kind, but the scene eases us into the performance very gently compared to what follows.
The story of Stella, a transvestite, and her encounter with the man at the milliners is far too graphic to be included here, as are many of the words used in Match, where a football supporter meets a gay man and starts reeling off dozens of incredibly offensive names, often shouted at gay people, before eventually begging for a sexual encounter.
That just leaves Dog, the tale of a very excited guy who is preparing himself, as a human dog, for the arrival home of his partner and master. Many in the audience seemed either shocked or squeamish while this scene took place but, when all is said and done, it’s just another facet in the strange thing we call life.
The performance as a whole, no pun intended, is somewhat stilted with nothing to link the scenes except a rather nasty tune, played on a mobile phone, which Lewton carries to each new location. His obvious nervousness, and inability to make eye contact with his audience, simply added to an already uncomfortable atmosphere.