Thursday, 4 May 2023

REVIEW: F**cking Men at Waterloo East Theatre

Written in 1897 and not publicly performed until 1920, La Ronde by German playwright Arthur Schnitzler, is a tale as old as time about sex and connection. In its naissance, it caused controversy and wasn’t performed for over twenty years due to its premise revolving around ten characters in ten scenes just before or after having a sexual encounter. Each character represents all levels of society to comment on class, monogamy, intimacy and, well, the spread of syphilis. The whore sleeps with the soldier, the soldier with the Parlour Maid, the Parlour Maid with the Young Gentleman… and so on and so forth. F**cking Men is Joe Dipetro’s retelling of the classic. He has chosen to set it in modern-day America instead of late nineteenth-century Vienna and interprets each character as a different man navigating their sexuality within the gay community and hook-up culture. Examples of the contemporary treatment of the characters have a young man turning tricks in secluded public places to replace the whore, a tutor as the Parlour Maid and a high-profile reporter as the Count. It translates nearly too easily.

Finding a comfortable home at the intimate Waterloo East Theatre until June 18, F**cking Men returns to London since its debut here 15 years ago. It has been reworked to keep up with the changing times and in both its long and short lifespan manages to comment on itself as well as the literature legacy it’s drawn from. The appointment of a young director, Steven Kunis, keeps this latest version from feeling outdated and hits the right note on many fronts. The human urge for love might remain consistent but the way we love is not. Apps and cancel culture dictate many of our moves or lack thereof. Likewise, the discord around HIV has changed enormously over the years within the gay community and is served modestly but well in the work.

The cast of four Alex Britt, Charlie Condou, Derek Mitchell, and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge, transition into each of their multiple roles seamlessly and successfully access the contrast between vulnerability and power each character requires, despite their place in society. The obvious, but all the same, unique aspect of this version, is that connecting them all is more than the human condition for intimacy but their sexuality as a community. Quite easily this could have been turned into a farce (I have seen versions of La Ronde that fall into this category), however, the ensemble holds the work together with tremendous heart, pathos and the right amount of comedy.

Beyond sexuality, the work makes you consider the boundaries of monogamy, self-identification and the line between manipulation to fulfil the individual desire and the encouragement of true moments of connection that can be missed without a bit of coaxing. 

This is a play that feels of the moment, is entertaining and will pull on the heartstrings just enough. Dipetro’s adaptation earns its place on the shelf next to its predecessor's rest and proves that there often is no better subject matter than one's desire to feel a connection with another. It’s not just about love, it's about feeling something.

Approximate runtime 1 hour 30 minutes with no interval

Contains strong language, homophobic violence and nudity

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: E 03 | Price of Ticket: £40 - £28

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