entertainment

'Jock Night' review: 'A frank, funny and frisky exploration of gay sex, drugs and friendship'

Adam Zane's comedy-drama about chemsex and jockstraps is Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre until 13 April.

2019-04-10

Words: Stephen M Hornby

There are men in a bed writhing under the duvet, which soon falls off them, to reveal a jock-strapped trio of young flesh, struggling to find the right rhythm to shag each other to.

It’s not long before drugs are offered as a solution to the mechanics of their dilemma. Enter a man twice their age with a tray of shot glasses of chemsex drug G, each mixed to precise millilitre doses and served whilst performing the famous Victoria Wood sketch' Two Soups'.

The tone is set for Jock Night. It’s a tone that allows for lots of humour, but which sometimes limits the emotional impact of some of the themes it attempts to deal with.

Ben is the emotional bedrock of a group of friends. Ben is also twice the age of each of them. Russ and Kam are almost a couple, but claim to be just friends with benefits, and both like shagging Ben. AJ is the newest twink on the block, playing it way more knowing that he actually is. 

And Simon is not a porn star, he was a porn performer and is now making a precarious living in clubland promotions. Simon’s arrival as Ben’s boyfriend disrupts the emotional dynamics. Simon’s desire to stop using drugs and try monogamy then unsettles the sexual and pharmacological balance of the group further. 

The play charts six months of changing sexual and emotional alliances until, unexpectedly, loss hits the group and they must make sense of what it reveals about the truth of the ties between them.

Adam Zane writes and directs Jock Night. Zane’s background is in verbatim theatre and this is his first full-length play.

He has a great ear for dialogue, for the snappy one-liner and the brilliantly failed come-back. The scenes between gay twinks all jostling for alpha position are funny and well-observed, as is the inter-generational dynamic between Ben and the much younger men that he chooses to surround himself with. 

The play does sometimes feel a bit like people just talking: Some scenes lack dramatic action and the narrative meanders along. Mostly that’s fine, as we’re in the company of funny and likeable characters. But when the play turns to serious drama, that weakness is shown up. 

One character comments on how little they know each other. Unfortunately, the audience too only have a surface connection with most of the characters. That’s fine for witty dialogue, but when you’re asking for an audience to dig deeper, then it’s a struggle to connect.

The performances are all crisp and confident. The cast conjure perfectly the sense of people who have known each other very well in some senses and not at all in others. The physical intimacy is all well staged by Zane in director mode. It’s explicit without being pornographic, and highly sexual with all of its complications, elations and mild disappointments.

Jock Night is frank, funny, frisky and not entirely superficial. It does have moments of seriousness about access to PrEP and the risks of chemsex, but these are only moments. It’s mostly a realistic, dramedy of the floating sexual and emotional alliances in a small group of urban gay men. And that has its own unique value.

'Jock Night' is at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 13th April 2019. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.