There’s nothing quite like a provocative title and a dollop of male nudity. Where would the Edinburgh Fringe be without them? This exploration of mores and manners of the modern gay man – from slut-shaming texts to empty hook-ups – takes Schnitzler’s 19th-century La Ronde as its inspiration. The device sees the prostitute sleep with the soldier who sleeps with the parlour maid who sleeps with the man-about-town… with only two actors taking on all the roles (in this production there are three: Haydn Whiteside, Harper James and Richard de Lisle). Here it’s the married man, the TV director, the male escort and the randy college boy.
It’s the world of mobile-app-enabled, soulless one-night-stands and rubber insulated quickies. ‘Why does any dude have sex with strangers? Because it feels fanfuckingtastic,’ says one of the characters. With minimal props and changes of costume, the defence mechanisms and self-justifications of today’s libidinous gay male are laid bare. ‘I’m not gay, I’m in the army!’ says the off-duty soldier, like one cancels out the other, as he zips up his jeans ready to leave. Then there’s the guy in the open relationship who sleeps around just because his partner does.
Even after equal marriage there is still the mantra that says being gay is not about monogamy and that there is something life-enhancing about promiscuity (even if you have to cope with all the lies, betrayal, emptiness and health risks). Is screwing around harmless fun, simply immoral (what a quaint idea) or about connecting on the most human level? This is a question the play asks but doesn’t really answer. The married guy yearns for a guilt-free one-nighter while the escort yearns to settle down. It’s not for nothing that such loveless, negotiated encounters were once called – in the queer vernacular – “trade”. Yet director Mark Barford in this King’s Head Theatre production ensures that this is no depressing round-robin. It’s full of witty insights and one-liners: ‘Do I like ecstasy? The drug or the concept? I like the concept very much.’
F*cking Men also tries to depict the anguish and often shallow existence of the urban homo-metrosexual and ask deeper questions, but much of its message sinks amid the banter and multiple scene changes. There seem to be no winners in this world. When the actor playing the playwright says he’s going to write about their encounter, the male porn star pleads with him not to make him out as a loser.