Theatre Review: 69 Shades of Gay

69 Shades of Gay

Brand new play, ’69 Shades of Gay’ might reduce gay men to a sexual stereotype, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny and features a cracking central performance, says Brian Finnegan


I can’t say I went to the press night of new play on the block, 69 Shades of Gay expecting anything much. The title alone not only harks to hits with the hen set, such as Menopause: The Musical, which are not exactly my cup of tea, but it suggests we’re going to be treated to one of those comedies that reduce the gay experience to a particular stereotype – the one that thinks about and talks about sex, incessantly.

It’s all true – 69 Shades of Gay could very well turn out to be a hit with the hen set, and it does reduce gay men to a super-sexualised stereotype, but lo and behold, it’s not only laugh-out-loud funny and full of genuine pathos, it’s pretty much a riveting hour and ten minutes of theatre, something the highest of art often can’t pull off.

Aiden, a gay lad somewhere in his 20s, is getting ready to meet his current squeeze, Marcus, who he fully expects is going to ask him to move in with him. Ready to settle down in domestic monogamy, Aiden starts going through his phone, deleting the phone numbers, dick pics and apps that have populated his sex life until now, and here we have the device with which the play and Aiden’s raucous sexual history unfolds – there are 69 of them.

We don’t get all 69 – only the ones that “touched” him get a look in – but it’s enough to provide a catalogue of sexual disasters that had the audience I saw it with not only laughing in the aisles, but verbally responding in empathy. This is to do with the breaking of the fourth wall in Rob Murphy’s performance – the house lights are regularly turned up as he ventures forth to speak to audience members, quizzing them on their own sex lives, and then bouncing off them, stand-up style. Indeed, 69 Shades of Gay is a kind of hybrid of theatre and stand-up comedy. Stuart Thomas’s super-politically incorrect script has so many one-liners, there’s barely time to catch a breath, and Ronnie McCann’s direction makes for a pretty much in-your-face experience.

Rob Murphy was found by the play’s producers from an open-call audition advertised through this website, and what a find he is. He’s regularly appeared in the Cheerios Panto at the Tivoli, and here you can see him relish the opportunity not only to stretch his comedy chops, but to deliver with a proper layered performance, showing hints of vulnerability beneath a snappy gay exterior that gets the audience laughing with Aiden, rather than laughing at him. His inability to delete No’ 25, a bass saxophone player called Chad who kicked him to the curb “like the rest of Destiny’s Child” provides the emotional heart of the show, and the sadness fuelling Aiden’s desperation to move in with Marcus.

There are flaws – to say it stereotypes is beyond an understatement, there’s no real sense of a deeper theme at play, L’s and T’s from the LGBT umbrella don’t get a look-in, and (beware) there’s an incredibly awkward piece of audience participation towards the end, but all that aside 69 Shades of Gay makes for an engrossing and very entertaining eighty minutes indeed. It’s probably not a good idea to bring your mother, though – unless she doesn’t mind sitting through scenarios involving sweetcorn and anal sex (“to douche or not to douche, that is the question”).

‘69 Shades of Gay’ is at Smock Alley theatre until June 11, get tickets here or from the box office at (01) 677 0014


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