A Gay Play With Knitwear, Not Nudity: The Boys In The Band Reviewed

The Boys In The Band, Park Theatre ★★★★☆

By Paul Ewing Last edited 16 months ago

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A Gay Play With Knitwear, Not Nudity: The Boys In The Band Reviewed The Boys In The Band, Park Theatre 4
© Darren Bell

The glass may be half empty but it's always going to be full of liquor or bile in The Boys In the Band. The alcohol starts flowing and then comes the loathing. But there's something unexpected: even amongst the bleak depiction of pre-Stonewall New York you get the sense they're a family. And will probably patch things up in the morning. Once they get over their broken noses and hangovers.

Mart Crowley's 1968 play was the first to present gay life to a mainstream audience. Appreciate that it was once unique. Nowadays there isn't a week that goes by in London when there's not a play about gay men in London — usually with the actors getting naked. But this play takes you back to an earlier time. With knitwear.

Before chemsex. Before AIDS. Before Stonewall. Just drinking, poppers, a bit of dope and a whole truckload of self hatred. But an excellent ensemble and a brisk pace makes for a crackling evening.

© Darren Bell

Setting the scene is a divine little apartment designed by Rebecca Brower. There's a shag carpet, a well-stocked bar. Plus various artefacts indicating key milestones in gay fabulousness... Judy Garland, Norma Desmond, throw cushions: some things are universal.

Friends arrive in predictable sequence, but the evening takes an unexpected turn when the hero's college friend pitches up to tell him something. The last to arrive is the Harold, the self-described "Jew Fairy" and by then the drinks and the high camp anxiety are starting to take their toll.

It feels like watching a period version of Sex and the City — a show that could easily be four gay men played by fag-hags. Here it's as if Carrie were the bitter and twisted person you suspect she really was.

© Darren Bell

Ian Hallard has the trickiest challenge of playing the self-hating Michael. He comes across so nice in the first half, it's difficult to understand the spark that ignited the fury in the second. Was it the closeted yet dashing ex-college pal spurning his interest? Or a mid-life crisis?

In a pacy evening, James Holmes gets the best laughs as high-camp Emory and Mark Gatiss as Harold serves up bile and humour in equally calculated measures. There is a great soundtrack accompanying the show: when they burst into a dance routine you can't help but wish perhaps they could have burst into song too.

The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley and directed by Adam Penford is at Park Theatre until 30 October. Tickets £20-£29.50; concessions £18.50-£22. Selling well, you may need to bitch-slap someone to get a seat. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 06 October 2016