My return to live theatre for the first time since February felt like a homecoming of sorts: although the audience was spaced out and (mostly) masked, the “new normal” of life in the time of coronavirus couldn’t dispel the sense of real people in an actual theatre, gathered to watch some actual actors put on an actual play. It was a lovely and quite exciting feeling.
The play in question is Paul Harvard’s drama about a gay man’s experience of the chem-sex scene, a usually grubby corner of queer life that’s been explored in several previous scripts. But if GHBoy doesn’t exactly ring with originality, it’s a story that’s compiled with sufficient skill to be worth a visit.
The plot revolves around 35-year-old Robert (Jimmy Essex), who we meet during his first appointment with art therapist Simon (Devesh Kishore). The trauma that Robert is seeking to deal with isn’t hugely surprising given the genre and subject of the play, but the method of uncovering it is unusual. During the play I found it an interesting concept, though afterwards I wondered how common this sort of therapy might be…?
Before the well-paced story reveals its big beats, we learn that Robert is in a relationship with 20-year-old Spaniard Sergio (Marc Bosch). The age difference is a source of some embarrassment to Robert but seems not to bother Sergio at all. In fact, in next to no time young Sergio has proposed marriage and been introduced to Robert’s mum (Nicola Sloane) and pal Jas (Aryander Ramkhalawon).
But Robert hasn’t been entirely honest with Sergio, who breaks the typical mold of these narratives by being both drug-averse and monogamous. Robert’s indiscretions and other secrets understandably erode Sergio’s trust, and that’s before we even reach the darkest moments of the plot.
A cast of seven give accomplished and sincere performances, which help to paper over some of the less successful elements of the script. As Sergio, Bosch is convincing in what might easily appear a fatally naïve character, while Essex gives the duplicitous Robert an authentic streak of humanity that saves him from appearing nothing more than a shifty and spineless sod. If there’s something missing in the relationship between the leads, it’s a sense of their history and a broader impression of who these characters are.
GHBoy is Harvard’s debut play, and he’s to be congratulated on building a work of structural integrity, which receives a full-blooded production here. There are some telling signs of inexperience: intersecting scenes need much more dramatic purpose, supporting characters could do with beefing up, and the art theme isn’t developed enough to make the final scene pay off as it should. But this is an essentially sound addition to the gay chem-sex canon.
I had wondered how socially distanced the cast would be, but I assume they’ve been bubbling together as there’s plenty of physical intimacy throughout. Having watched a bit of post-Covid telly, I was glad they’ve found a way of avoiding the laughable stand-offs of the new soaps. I left Charing Cross looking forward to my next experience of resurrected live theatre.
Written by: Paul Harvard
Directed by: Jon Pashley
Produced by: James Quaife
GHBoy is on at Charing Cross Theatre until 20 December.