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Boy band's tale makes for a gay evening

Review by Paul Nelson

IN AN age when almost every other play on the Fringe circuit has a gay theme, and the subject has been presented by some very grand writers indeed, how do you follow it with one of your own?

Very recently, at Oval House, we had a play propounding the cynical theory that writing a gay play is the only way to make money, and currently at New End, there is You Couldn't Make It Up, which frankly hedges its bets and takes all the major themes of all the gay plays I have ever seen, excluding concentration camps and Jewish mothers.

By rolling them all together, the author hopes he has cracked the gay play problem.

The cast play a multitude of parts and this is somewhat confusing. A confusion not helped by the programme, which ludicrously lists the cast alphabetically, thereby throwing the first 20 minutes out of the window until you have discovered who everyone is.

I am back on my geography hobbyhorse again. Who are they? Where are they? Now tell me what they have to say.

What makes it only slightly more confusing until you get used to the idea, sometimes the cast are 'straights' and sometimes 'gays'.

Once that is sorted, the play becomes an enjoyable evening.

Opening in what I presume is a gay disco, a well drilled group of boys and a supercilious group of sponsors of anything that makes money in show business set the atmosphere.

We are talking about the exploitation of the young and possibly talented.

The play then focuses on a writer, Philip, who is also a somewhat disillusioned fighter for gay rights.

He is going through writer's block and has changed from writing fringe plays, and TV scripts, in the hope that the big one will eventually come and he'll be making a film.

He's a bit of a philanthropist is Philip, and he has a lodger, Kevin, an out of work actor/singer who wants to get into show business, but who is broke.

Kevin claims he is straight, and is he or isn't he takes up a good deal of the plot.

I would have thought that these days the answer would be who cares anyway, but I grant that in the circumstances it's a splendid way to get out interest.

Splendid? Well, yes. Kevin earns what money Philip doesn't give him by being a rent boy. The second scene of the play takes place in a torture cellar where gay fantasies are played out.

Kevin's straight mate John, a model and aspiring actor, has an ongoing relationship with Angel, and when they all go to a school reunion matters get out of hand and result in a few bricks being dropped and truths faced.

The play here begins to have a fragile feel. I can hardly believe the entire school, except two or three, were all gay, but it isn't a major worry that the plot frays slightly at the edges at this point.

The catalyst that throws everything into stark relief, apart from the school reunion, is an audition for a new boy band, which Kevin fails and John, who has overheard about the auditions, passes.

The boy band idea is dropped as John's star moves higher and higher and, here all congratulations to the author, there is the final unravelling which is truly interesting and ultimately moving.

We have an author who has managed easily to provide an excellent ending to his play, quite a rare feat these days.

The play provides some extremely good actors with some real chances to show off and this, together with the amusing dialogue, a lot of it dependent on television programmes and personalities in the news, and it is peppered by that old standby, camp humour.

The latter is handled in a masterly fashion, mainly by Andy Killick, who plays an older fag with a biting wit and a calm philosophy of life.

When it takes place in gay environs I can believe this play, it gets into hot water when we are expected to believe, as one by one they are outed, that everyone either was, is or will be.

The evening is wrapped up in a glittering parcel of new songs, stringent choreography (real boy bands will shit when they see this, no fast editing, no strobes), and a stream of surprises and insider knowledge type of gags.

It produces one of the best jokes to be told as a joke, and although I wonder is this wise, as it will be all over the place by the time you read this, it is a killer and is a straight one.

In its more serious moments, the play lifts all too briefly the lid on exploiting innocents in show business, and the futility of all those gay rights demos and political lobbying. The average gay man doesn't give a …

It is good to report that the audience laughed loud and long at some of the more raunchy one-liners which come thick and fast.

Congratulations to the author, he has set himself a problem and has worked it out, before your very eyes playmates, as Arthur Askey used to say.

For the musical staging, performances and in the end the sheer front of the piece, I'd say go, and tell your friends about it. In spite of the serious side of the theme, it's a lighthearted evening.

You Couldn't Make It Up by Patrick Wilde, Directed by the author, Original Music and Lyrics Julian and Stephen Butler, Choreographer and Fight Arranger Beverly Denim, Assistant to Ms Denim Alex Woodhall, Designer Tracy Waller, Lighting Michael Leeman. WITH: Alexis Gregory (Hal), Andy Killick (Max), Oliver Langdon (Bobby), Emma Linley (Angel/Little Girl V.O.), Adam Redmayne (Philip), Robert Sutton (John), David Paul West (Kevin), Tom Wisdom (Steven V.O.), Alex Woodhall (Errol/Robot/The Client). Presented by The Wild Justice Company and Produced by Pete Shaw at The New End Theatre, 27 New End, London N3 until June 21. Tickets 020 7794 0022

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