“So why did you pick him?”
Having got together early on in their uni days, Rafe and Pete are suffering something of a seven year itch. More specifically they’re wondering what it would be like to be with someone else sexually and so they’ve invited their friend Michael around with their own indecent proposal – a night with each of them, separately, to satisfy their curiosity, of which they will then never speak again. Naturally though, the course of sexual experimentation never does run smooth, especially once Michael’s partner Andrew is factored into the equation.
Jake Brunger’s Four Play – first commissioned by the Old Vic New Voices scheme – sees a bit of a leap from his last work, the musical adaptation of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ at Leicester’s Curve, but you can still see the connections in the emotional knots that people end up tying themselves into. Rafe and Pete’s intensely committed relationship may contrast with the more open partnership between Michael and Andrew but at the heart of the problems that spiral out of the formers’ proposition, is a similar lack of honesty about what each wants when it comes to sex, love and commitment.
Brunger’s play has its moments of real insight into the changing dynamics of modern relationships, not just for gay men but for anyone who has ever wondered if the grass isn’t perhaps a little greener elsewhere. And Jonathan O’Boyle’s energetic production establishes its natural rhythms early on, deftly comic touches swerving into more nuanced details of troubled romance, the foursome endearingly fudging their way towards some kind of resolution as secret after secret comes tumbling out of their collective closets.
Though the focus is initially on Cai Brigden’s nervily romantic Rafe and Michael Gilbert’s quietly unfulfilled Pete, it is Peter Hannah’s lothario-like Michael and Michael James’ acutely sardonic but still sensitive Andrew to really come to the fore, the complexities of their relationship examined to a satisfying degree. Consequently, we don’t quite see enough of Rafe and Pete as a successful couple to invest in them quite as much, they’re also landed with some of Brunger’s slightly weaker writing moments – references that don’t quite land, contrivances that don’t always convince.
But in the midst of Cecilia Carey’s impressively adaptable and modern design aesthetic (after her sensational work for Sense of an Ending also under O’Boyle’s direction, is there another creative team who knows how to exploit this space as well?) and Jack Weir’s washes of twinkling lighting, Four Play remains highly enjoyable throughout. And if it’s not exactly earth-shattering, well that’s kind of the point – for all of the thrill ratcheting up notch after notch, there’s pleasure too in sticking with the same comfortable groove, you’ve just gotta be on the same page as your bedpost!