Friday, 20 August 2021

REVIEW: Tell Me Straight at the King's Head Theatre

Tell me Straight is an original new play championing queer and working-class voices making their mark on the independent theatre scene produced by Gartland Productions and as part of the Kings Head Theatre queer season. Written by Paul Bradshaw and directed by Imogen Hudson-Clayton, together with the rest of the team they have produced a charming piece of theatre that will speak to a generation of LGBTQ people in London navigating hookup culture, getting older and sexuality.

Writer, Bradshaw, also stars in this work, he plays a millennial gay man determined to find some new perspective in his life. He decides the only way to do this is by putting himself on a self mandated 30-day detox from sex, booze and fast food. This attempt at a sober existence forces him to examine his work life, past relationships and to confront the prospect of new ones. It becomes quickly evident, in regards to his love life, that he has a type, ‘straight’ men working out their own identity. Alongside Bradshaw is George Greenland who takes on a multi charter role to represent these past and present flames. As the story unfolds, tales of optimism and romance are met by constant disappointment and this man willing to put himself on the line in the name of love, is forced to question why he finds himself as a sort of testing ground for these other men who are not yet ready to fully confront their own sexuality.

Tell Me Straight is a very timely and relevant play tackling some nuanced issues in the LGBTQ dating scene. It is a comedy with a heart and performed with conviction by Bradshaw, Greenland and Stephanie Levi-John (through voice recordings). Greenland in particular has the hardest job in the work playing the multiple love interests/ friends of the protagonist. Differentiating each character primarily by voice, accent, physicality and simple costume adjustments, Greenland is clearly a very skilled and versatile performer. The play does, however, take a little time to settle in and these quick transformations can be a little hard to follow at first. Because of this, I at times felt like I was about half a step behind the action of the story. It has to be said though, once I was able to catch onto the flow of these transitions, I found myself fully drawn into what Greenland was offering with each character. The focus, however, is very much from Bradshaw’s characters perspective. 

My main query about the play is its message. It comes off as being very one-sided favouring the misfortune of the protagonist who feels used by these men who are not at the same place as him on their journey of sexual identity. I can’t help but feel the lack of context and closure given to these other characters valid individual conflicts is a missed conversation to explore. In saying this, however, Bradshaw convincingly plays the duplicity of his character who is at times a little too self-absorbed but with a kind soul.

The lighting is at times a bit dark but its minimal design together with a sparse set works to the advantage of the jump-cut nature of the play. The writing is cleverly laden with London cultural references and dry jokes to keep a local audience smiling the whole way through. You can be sure to have a fun night out at the theatre with this one. I am sure we will see it making a return to the stage once this season is over.

Running from the at the Kings Head Theatre from 17th – 21st August 2021.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★

Seat: D14 | Price of Ticket: £12 - £18

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