Monday, 24 July 2017

The Chemsex Monologues

Image Source: West End Wilma
Written By: Scott Gunnion

Format: Play
Genre: Drama
Date: July 21 2017
Location: St Brides Church, Liverpool, England

Chemsex, for those who don't already know, is the practise within the gay community of consuming an indiscriminate amount of drugs whilst engaging in orgies and casual, often reckless sex. It is a burgeoning epidemic and a very real cultural menace.

The venue hosting the event was a church. I can envision scratching your head in disbelief. Yes, a church, but one well-known for its trendy liberal posturings. Before the start of the performance, I scanned my fellow audience members and it soon became apparent.

It instantly became apparent to me that the composition of the audience, or congregation, was decidedly sober and almost businesslike in its demeanour, thrust together, it would seem, by a shared concern for the threats of chemsex and the social fabric of the gay community. I imagined that most of them first read about chemsex in the Guardian or some other trendy publication, gasped in open-mouthed horror and decided there and then that they would take matters into their own hands.

Though the surroundings were open and inviting, the acoustics within the venue were less than friendly and the actor with the difficult task of delivering the inaugural monologue had to persevere through the distracting racket of rainfall, almost biblical in scale, as it thrashed against the church room and left the audience almost incapable to deciphering the content of the monologue being delivered. The actor, to his credit, had to rely solely on his adolescent enthusiasm as he persevered to cut through temperamental rainfall.

The first story delicately conveyed the dangerous journey from awe-soaked first encounters to the reckless hedonism inherent within chemsex cirles. It all seemed so easy. Easy to get involved and even easier to get carried away. It served as a stark warning to those taking note.

The writer was telling us: you might not have come face to face with chemsex but, trust me, it's there lurking beneath the surface.

A second monologue from a female observer served as a real moral voice. Part sociologist, part Stacey Solomon; nonetheless, she was surely a creature of reason. The verdict from her was that chemsex was a selfish beast: excluding women, those who don't participate, and causing those immersed in in to withdraw from the mainstream and become lost in a world of aimlessly over-indulgence and empty excess. In her somewhat satirical sermon, she offered up a shopping list of symptoms synonymous with those consumed in the chemsex scene. Though the focus was always on education over indoctrination, never meandering near anything close to condemnation.

All four monologues touched on widespread casual attitudes to drug use in the gay community; again, raising awareness instead of raising an eyebrow. Geebs, it was suggested, was used as freely and liberally as a heavily-abused bottle of fake tan. As somebody well-placed to comment, it was hard to argue.

Each story was London-centric to its core. Perhaps that's because the Liverpool gay scene has yet to fully succumb to the chemsex culture (or epidemic). So whilst the setting and stories shared were by no means local to the audience, the writer successfully made the stories relevant to the audience and the subject matter familiar and close to home.

The finished product was honest and thoughtful, raising awareness in a way that was upfront but never forceful, at times explicit though always tasteful. Patient, restrained and never sensational.

This was no sensationalist expose like those found in the Daily Mail.

It lay bare the facts. This is chemsex, this is what it is, this is what it causes. Informing, though never advising.

The finished product was peppered with occasional moments of humour, which were absolutely essential. Without this, the experience would have been overwhelmingly bleak. In the absence of humour, the monologues could be better described as eulogies.

The writer and director had obviously worked very hard to educate the audience as much as entertain them. Chemsex was a hitherto little understood issue. The audience could consider itself fully briefed on the matter. No doubt people came away from the performance as concerned as they were curious.

It was up to the audience to decide: do we want to do something about it? Or was this just another night at the theatre?

Only time will tell...

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good