Review: Jock Night, Seven Dials Playhouse

Jock Night offers an eye-opening look at a slice of modern gay life at Seven Dials Playhouse

“I can’t rim you if Victoria Wood is on”

There’s a time and a place for a Mrs Overall joke and as Ben finds out, it’s not whilst carrying the ingredients for a horned-up afterparty somewhere in Manchester’s Gay Village. Somewhere in his mid-40s, he’s a veteran of the chemsex scene, hosting regular parties after the Jock club night with its strict dress code of underwear or sports kit. But as the guys around him get ever younger, he’s beginning to reassess his priorities and the relationships in his life.

Spread over four of these afterparties over the course of six months, Adam Zane’s Jock Night delves boldly into this subculture of contemporary gay life to powerful effect. His cast prowl the stage in their jockstraps and short shorts, the main interruptions to their sex scenes being to take the drugs fuelling their partying but even among all this hedonism, glimpses of character can’t help but bleed through, layering up the storytelling that grows gradually in its impact.

Ben’s is a nurturing soul, searching for love just as much as satisfying his urges and on a constant journey about how to achieve both without losing his self, David Paisley bringing real depth to a man who too easily gives too much. Kam is the archetypal white mean gay whose sharp-writted and sharp-edged facade doesn’t quite mask the turmoil beneath, Sam Goodchild relishing the cutting humour and Corrie campery. And Matthew Gent’s gym-honed Insta-star-in-the-making Russ is sweetly perfect, if only he could tell Kam how he really feels.

Into this group are thrown two wildcards – Levi Payne’s AJ, fresh off the bus from Doncaster and not quite prepared for the consequences of throwing himself headlong onto all fours, and George Hughes’ Simon whose alter-ego as porn performer (not star!) Hunter has all of them gagging as he forces a recalibration for everyone with hugely rippling effect. Dick Longdin’s urban apartment design, dominated by the bed natch, is spot-on (to the point where I have those exact bowls with the metallic insides!) and David Clare’s lighting does much to encourage the steamy atmosphere as it does the moments of softer interaction.

Zane, who also directs, possibly packs his final act with a little too much, its revelations coming thick and hard. Given how well drawn his characters are, you can’t help but want to know more and I’d argue the greater depths that come into play here deserve more time. But where he does excel is in the exploration of how gay men deal (or otherwise) with the blurring of the lines between fuck-buddies and friends and (chosen) family in order to find a version of society where pride can be felt freely.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Dawn Kilner
Jock Night is booking at Seven Dials Playhouse until 11th November

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