As the audience enter the Assembly Roxy there is a sense of intrusion as the actors are already on stage talking, hugging, removing coats and tops. Dance music thumps and we are in a shabby London flat living room watching an unfolding sex party or “chill”. The actors bravely remove clothes, but the characters reveal more than their bodies. They take turns interacting with one another and with the audience, describing – in graphic detail – their experiences with orgies, men and drugs. Some are funny, some thought-provoking, and a few shocking, even disturbing. More arresting is that 5 Guys Chillin’ is based on interviews and confessions from real people.
The characters seem to revel in their drug-taking and chemical highs, laughing at their own anecdotes and dancing freely to the insistent trance music under dimmed lighting. However, a pattern emerges as we realise that each hit or “slam” comes habitually after the exposure of any sexual account that reaches beyond the comfortable or safe. The drugs are clearly a coping mechanism for the risks of dangerous practices borne out of our heteronormative society. Even more alarming are the characters’ attitudes towards STIs, particularly their HIV statuses. As the atmosphere descends into toxicity and danger, we are left without a curtain call or self-congratulating hugs and bows. Instead, the audience filter out, affected and provoked, the party atmosphere well and truly crashing.
For those expecting a bit of titillation the play is about much more than cheeky voyeurism for a night, despite the nudity and stark sexual detail. Neither is there a traditional or predictable narrative – although the flow is always building towards a climactic finale. It is an insight into a complicated aspect of the gay community. For some audience members this may be new and appalling, for others perhaps more familiar and poignant.