Words: Phillip Game
My recent trip to the Above The Stag theatre saw me catch a restaging of Extra Virgin, a short play by Howard Walters, with Peter Bull directing.
The action literally kicks off in the bedroom: two guys on a Grindr hook up coming to a sticky end.
Innocuous enough, you might think, but after wiping themselves down, our protagonists embark on an unrelenting postcoital chat that steadily descends into something unsettling, which eventually leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth and wondering how you arrived there.
James Farley takes the lead as Noah, the fawning, quintessential twink and Alexander Hulme as the muscular, older Elliot.
From the onset, it fits all the obvious gay stereotypes, but as Noah’s probing pillow talk becomes increasingly personal and more pointed, Elliot’s sketchy past starts to unfold and the balance of power shifts as their roles are reversed, exposing Elliot’s vulnerability which had been hidden behind a thin veil of self-assurance.
Whilst you get the impression that the play is under-directed in places, you have to give kudos to Farley and Hulme, who are impressive in their roles.
As their stories unfold, you start to feel conflicted as you don’t know who to feel sorry for. Is it Noah with his hidden agenda or Elliot with his fractured past?
Indeed, by the end of the play, you question whether you should feel sorry for either of them, because on the one side you have a twink living his best fantasy by scoring the hot, muscular man he dreams of; on the other, you have a game of psychological warfare where Elliot realises a little too late that his hook up is not as random as it seemed and all his skeletons have already fallen out of the proverbial closet.
The issue with this play is that it was always going to struggle to tell the story it sets out in such a short time, which is disappointing as the dynamics of Noah and Elliot’s relationship felt only half told and important issues like consent in the LGBTQ community felt largely skirted around.
That said, it was an interesting play that finishes as it started: two guys coming to a sticky end.
Extra Virgin runs until February 10 at the Above the Stag Theatre, Vauxhall. Tickets on sale here.