In covering the many decades of a gay relationship, Play Something misses a little something at the Drayton Arms Theatre
“You have to go through it to get through it”
We all have songs that remind us of loved ones and lost ones, special occasions and sad – the right piece of music can trigger the deepest of memories and emotions. So it is a notion rich in potential to be explored in a theatrical context and that is exactly what Paul T Davies has done with his play Play Something, receiving a short run here at the Drayton Arms Theatre in West London.
The first half of the play is constructed as something of a memory play. Older versions of the two characters watch on as their younger selves act out key scenes from their relationship and since music unlocks so much of that sensory memory, they intermittently call out to the onstage DJ ‘play the one to make love to’, ‘play the one for a celebration’, ‘play the Forever Song’…
So club music is thumping away when our two protagonists hook up at a gay club, Kylie’s ‘Confide in Me’ is the weapon of choice to provide a seductive atmosphere of role reversal, Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ soundtracks a key reunion. It is structurally intriguing and as a way of hooking us into the story of two men at different places in accepting their sexuality, at cross purposes in trying to define their relationship, it is one which shows much potential, particularly in the interplay between old and young when it comes to the more emotionally difficult parts of the story.
As the story then tips forward a few decades, it doesn’t quite maintain the same energy. It becomes a more straightforward love story and in its headlong rush to cover the full span of the marriage that emerges, it skates over some of the more interesting facets of their relationship. The emotional impact of coming out later in life, working through internalised homophobia, the social pressures to replicate heteronormative models of coupledom. Instead we’re left with improbable leaps (poor abandoned fiancé!) and unnecessarily long pyjama parties.
Jacko Pook and Ben Maytham strike up an interesting chemistry as the younger pair, navigating open relationships and conflicting feelings with real vigour. And as the more empathetically aligned older coupling, Matt Bradbury and Shane Whitworth have a more tender, subtler connection. But having set up a promisingly bold beginning, Davies loses some of the courage of his convictions and ultimately Play Something becomes something more conventional.
Running time: 65 minutes (without interval)
Play Something is booking at the Drayton Arms until 22nd September