Rafe and Pete have been together since university, before either was officially out and have spent the preceding seven and a half years together. It’s time for a change. It’s time to ask their friend Michael a question. For a night (or two?) which will change everything. Jake Brunger’s 2016 debut play (he has a sideline contributing books for musicals such as Adrian Mole at the Menier) is a laugh a minute exploration of modern relationships, monogamy, friendships and sexual mores in the era of Grindr. Director Liam Blain’s production pitches the humour front and centre, gags dropping with regular fizz, it’s probably the funniest play about millennials I’ve seen since Fleabag hit the stage.
Brunger’s writing is scalpel sharp on relationships, gay or straight, one that will surely get any couple in the middle stretch itch questioning all their assumptions about the solid foundation of their relationships. A simple question soon spirals off into paranoia, recrimination and heart break. Brunger structures his play in traditional sitcom style, scenes build and tensions ratchet until the thermostat with increasing inevitably explodes.
It’s a safer play than its synopsis and early scenes suggests, traditionally styled and with a surprisingly conservative ending. For anyone who has seen a rom-com you can guess where it is all going. Yet this may be the intention. For Brunger has written a mainstream play about gay men and their relationships, without any of the coded messages (The Deep Blue Sea) recriminations (Boys From The Band) bruising punishment (Bent) or tragic illness (Angels In America) that so much of the gay canon incorporate in their USP’s. Four Plays uniqueness to those titles, is in how little the characters sexuality defines them or goes about actioning their motivations.
Blain’s production is played fast and clean on Stavri Papadopoulou’s clever minimalist set that fills in for homes, bars and parks and is ably supported by a quartet of strong performances from the graduating class from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. As Rafe and Pete, Marco Young and Max Dinnen bring out the two sides to the couple with a proposition to make. Young pitches nervously, words cascading out of him in torrents as he eventually stumbles to his offer. Dinnen is slyer, his tongue suggestively rolling around his lips as he seizes up his options, seven years of monogamy making him hungry for a poke. As Michael first year FDA actor Cudjoe Asare nobly steps into the breach at short notice and gives his gym Adonis a bewildered bemused expression, as the dawning realisation of what his friends are asking of him becomes clear.
Yet the standout is James Schofield’s Andrew, partner to Michael, uni chum to Rafe and Pete and the fourth wheel in this illicit equation. Schofield was a strong centre in How to Disappear Completely and provides something similar here. A role with less stage time than the other three begins to feel its main protagonist. Schofield is blisteringly good as the partner unable to believe his luck in snaring ‘a 10 to his 6’ and holding onto this fortune with a deliberately blind eye. The pain and anger builds until it explodes out of him in the focal dinner party scene where secrets are revealed and decisions made. Its to Blain and Bruger’s credit that the laughter that has rocked the Wardrobe Theatre quietens down as its audience begin to be gripped by its machinations. Get them laughing, get them listening, get them feeling, the scripture for all good theatre. By the end it is doing all three. Four Play is a little gem.
Four Play plays at the Wardrobe Theatre until 12 May as part of BOVTS Directors Cuts season.