The ticket warns: "Contains scenes that you may find disturbing" and it's right. But the really disturbing bit is not the graphic sex scene, which is staple Royal Court fare, but rather the oppressively dark view of humanity and relationships that is presented in Grae Cleugh's debut F***ing Games.
The piece opens onto a modern living room complete with leather sofa, glass table (perfect for nose candy) and drinks cabinet. Here we're introduced to Terence, a snobby, manipulative old queen, and his long suffering partner Jonah who are preparing to receive guests - the actor Josh and his new young lover, Danny.
So far it seems like a gay Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and there are indeed comparisons to be drawn. Terence takes an instant dislike to the interloper Danny, feeling threatened by his youth and optimism and riled by his irreverence towards what Danny sees as a clone-filled gay community which Terence's generation fought so hard to realise. So the games begin.
Cleugh's writing is witty and sharp, and the piece moves steadily through discussions of sexual encounters and catty jokes, largely at Jonah's expense, until things start to hot up with the revelation that Terence has been having an affair with the Adonis-like Josh. What ensues is a showdown between Danny and Terence, and the games turn very nasty.
All the performances in this production are convincing and carefully judged. Allan Courduner's bitter, heterophobic Terence seems the polar opposite to Benjamin Davies' opinionated and blooming Danny, but in an unexpected twist, we realise the two men are frighteningly alike. Dominic Cooke's direction is subtle but evocative, and the audience squirm as awkwardly as if invited to the painful drinks party themselves.
Though the production is brave, it is also unforgiving, with no light at the end of the tunnel, which ultimately makes F***ing Games a depressing experience. All the relationships are destructive, driven only by sex, beauty or money, with any real love "pissed on from a great height". Not then for the faint-hearted, but nevertheless a well-written piece of theatre if a damning perspective of humanity. Cleugh's characters may be playing games but there's no teamwork - it's every man for himself.
- Hannah Khalil