Review: Generation Games, White Bear Theatre

Generation Games features a double bill of Michael McManus’ A Certain Term and Charlie Ross MacKenzie’s I F____n Love You at the White Bear Theatre

It’s not dying young that’s an offence against nature for a gay man, you know. It’s growing old. We become invisible.”

It is always interesting to get to revisit productions that you have really enjoyed. First seen here at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington back in August 2021 under the title Gay Generations, this double bill of one-act comedy dramas has been reworked, recast and retitled as Generation Games. I ranked the show in my top 10 of 2021 and so the chance to see it again was an intriguing one, especially to see if it provoked the same level of emotional response.

Michael McManus’ A Certain Term is the one that made me bawl last time and if I have to confess that I didn’t cry as much this time, I should also point out that it is actually richer on a second viewing for spoiler-ish reasons I shall not divulge. After a drunken meeting in a gay bar, 40-something muscle Mary Graham invited 20-something twinkish Joe to a party but it has slipped his mind. So when Joe rocks up early, there’s a chance to re-establish a connection that takes them both by surprise.

For there’s more than just an age gap between them, there’s a complete experience gap in the hugely different ways in which they’ve navigated being gay and McManus evokes this heart-rendingly well, wit and warmth in the way they tease each other, deep compassion flooding through the realisations of hidden truths. Luke McBride’s brash Graham can’t quite hide his interior pain and Simon Stallard’s questioning Joe is a lovely foil. The way the hour unfolds is so elegantly done, it really is so very moving.

Post-interval, things become a little more light-hearted with Charlie Ross MacKenzie’s I F____n Love You, a portrayal of a relationship undergoing one of the biggest possible challenges, a night on the spare bed. Simon and Adrian are getting ready to turn but it turns out there’s more keeping them up that just a lumpy mattress, as their bedtime storytelling starts to include some pretty hefty subject matter.

Both in the entertainment business but on opposing trajectories, former TV presenter Adrian’s prepping for an interview with Bucks Fizz on local radio whilst Simon is musing offers from Strictly, their relationship is actually in a fairly healthy place. And so as they ricochet from flirtatious friends to appropriate levels of jealousy to whether kids are on the table, there’s a mature consideration of the age difference between them but more significantly, a reinforcement of their feelings for one another.

MacKenzie and Joe Ashman play this connection with a delicious chemisty, a twinkle in each other’s eye for every jab about weak bladders and liking Citizen Kane, Edward Applewhite’s direction ensuring the charm and comedy remains uppermost. Together, these plays offer an absorbing look at intergenerational gay relationships, both platonic and romantic, that is refreshingly free of judgement. Recommended.

Running time: 2 hour 10 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Michael McManus
Generation Games is booking at White Bear Theatre until 22nd April

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