Pros: A strong cast of characters and an interesting premise and story structure.
Cons: The shifts back and forth between the dual stories can spoil the general flow.
I had been lucky enough to see Damien Tracey’s Warde Street at the Tristan Bates Theatre last year. Having been very impressed by that play I was intrigued to see his new work Faster Higher Stronger Straighter at the Dominion Studio. Running from 8pm to 10pm it allows the studio audience to arrive after the crowds for We Will Rock You have been seated and to depart again before the main auditorium comes out.
The play tells the story of two young gay men taking part in Olympic opening ceremonies. Darragh (Chris Aylmer) in London 2012 and Pahval (Naeem Hayat) in Russia 2014. Both are excited to be involved in such historical events, although each has a slightly different agenda. In London, a cosmopolitan city where homosexuality has lost much of its previous stigma, Darragh is struggling with the prospect of his visiting father meeting his live-in boyfriend. Meanwhile in Russia, Pahval is planning on using his moment on the world stage to parade a rainbow flag to highlight the gay cause, a dangerous and audacious plan that will cost him dearly.
A single set provides the setting for both stories as the scenes move back and forth between London and Russia. The transitions sometimes feel a little awkward and seeing the actors dropping in and out of character whilst entering and exiting the stage checks the flow and rhythm.
However, this is another strong work from Tracey that uses both humour and violence to inform the audience. It looks at how acceptable (or unacceptable) homosexuality has become in different parts of the world, something that can easily pass us by when we live in apparently more liberal Western cities. It looks at the process of coming out, how parents deal with it, and the effect on family relationships. It also looks at how coming to terms with being gay involves more than wearing tight t-shirts and being flamboyant.There is one particularly heartfelt scene where Russell (played brilliantly by Charlie Allen) talks about love; that when you look past the physical act of love you are left with love alone. It seems so simple when put in those terms.
There are some lovely comedy moments with Russell and Darragh, especially when they are joined by Darragh’s father John (Chris McCalphy). The lighter moments lend balance to the tougher scenes and the contrast emphasises both extremes.
I found the London scenario more accessible and familiar than its Russian counterpart, which was completely shocking. If the storyline is to be believed then the play succeeds in opening our eyes. It may seem alien and incomprehensible in this day and age to realise that there are still people hunting down those that they believe to be deviants yet even British newspapers still contain reports of gay bashing so how far have we honestly come?
As you would imagine some of the content is hard hitting and at times I despaired for mankind. But better to be upset and aware than complacent and ignorant.
NB: All proceeds of this production will be donated to the Russian LGBT foundation.