“We just have to position ourselves right”
Though Nick Payne is the name on most people’s lips when it comes to exciting new male playwrights thanks to his award-winning Constellations, for my money DC Moore is as equally deserving of such attention. He is probably one of the most talented composers of dialogue working at the moment and his clear-sighted writing has definitely marked him out as one to watch. Directed by Richard Wilson, his latest play Straight opened in Sheffield earlier this month but now arrives in London at the Bush Theatre to present a picture of male friendship unlike most others.
Based on Lynn Shelton’s film Humpday, Straight starts off in a moment of apparent marital bliss. Lewis and Morgan are making the best of a bad lot in their property situation but are so into each other that they are discussing babies. But when Lewis’ old university friend Waldorf arrives, through the letter box first, to collect on a promise of a bed after he finished his gap year travels, he threatens to upset their dynamic by reminding Lewis of the freedom he is midway through relinquishing. A drunken night out ensues with much taunting about their comparative sexual adventures and ends up with them daring each other to have sex on camera, as you do.
The hotel room is booked, the video camera is prepped and neither guy wants to be the one to lose face by backing down and so the scene is set for a highly comedic traipse to the edge. But though it is exceedingly funny – one of the funniest lines of the year comes from the dismissal of any concerns about the ethics of pornography – it is also astutely emotionally complex and most importantly, it just feels so authentic. Moore’s script is deceptively straightforward, peppered with contemporary references to Downton and Michael Gove, but cuts to the heart of the delicate emotional state of its protagonists. There’s no attempt to overegg the pudding by contextualising events within a larger thematic framework, instead there’s just an acutely observed portrait of what it is to deal with aspects of contemporary young adulthood in a world where certainties are few and far between.
And this fragility is perfectly captured by a cast who are thoroughly attuned to the rhythms of the naturalistic language, so much of the dialogue sounds just like the conversations from the bustling foyer. Returning from a gap year that lasted for seven, Philip McGinley’s Waldorf arrives in a truly unique style but his extrovert personality can’t always hide the insecurities and sense of dislocation that has settled on him. And Henry Pettigrew’s buttoned-up Lewis has a gorgeously bashful reticence, his relation of a would-be university dalliance is just perfect and utterly believable in its evocation of those crushes we never act upon.
But though the issue of fluidity around sexuality – Wilson neatly suggests potential latent desire even from the first time the two lads see other as Lewis rugby-tackles Waldorf onto the bed – is delicately and thoughtfully handled, Moore’s writing also delves into the fears that come from the assumption of grown-up life. Shafted by a housing market that has left them in negative equity and stuck in a cramped studio they had intended to rent out, Lewis and Morgan start off the play so undaunted that parenthood is definitely on the table but soon find themselves wondering if the grass is in fact greener on the other, responsibility-free, side.
Jessica Ransom’s Morgan has a beautifully understated but lightning-sharp humorous touch that is highly engaging and totally relatable as she tries to process the behaviour of her husband; Jenny Rainsford gives some excellent stoner acting as the porn star whose laconic suggestion sets the main plot in motion and James Cotterill’s design transforms most effectively over the interval as the fateful moment approaches. Filled with warmth, insight and a dose of much-appreciated genuine humour, straight up I’m telling you straight to go straight to see Straight.