The King’s Head Theatre opens in its new venue with sprightly gay play Exhibitionists
“Give me the spoon”
The King’s Head Theatre is dead, long live the King’s Head Theatre. The former pub theatre has moved but a stone’s throw (and down multiple flights of stairs!) away to Islington Square and its new home but the ethos of the theatre (and the friendliness of its staff) remains entirely intact, along with the LGBTQ+ focus of its programming as evidenced by debut production Exhibitionists, which I caught in its final preview in an attempt to beat the looming tube strike.
Written by Shaun McKenna and Andrew Van Sickle, the play describes itself as “a dazzling new gay romantic comedy” but it feels like one which takes gleeful inspiration from the past. Its bickering former couple recalls a touch of Noël Coward, its farcical shenanigans shades of Alan Ayckbourn, but set among the gay glitterati at the top of the San Francisco art world, it also possesses a queer sensibility that is very much of the moment. Altogether, it makes for a decent comedy, albeit of the gentle rather than raucous kind.
After years together in a happily non-monogamous relationship, Conor and Robbie have gone their separate ways and moved onto younger partners Mal and Rayyan respectively. But when they meet by chance at a private viewing in a San Fran high-rise, that old chemistry proves hard to resist as their initial squabbling soon turns to snogging, shagging and shacking up at a nearby motel run by a sexy Scandinavian. Having been dumped at the gallery, their other halves set off in pursuit and unexpectedly end up at the same motel – shenanigans you say?
Bronagh Lagan’s production has a nice lightness to it, wearing its authors’ intent lightly as it skirts around its comedy of manners with a decidedly queer bent. While they may not be able to decide if they love or hate each other, Conor and Robbie’s attitudes to sex are completely in tune – lots of it, whenever they want. Ironically, it is the younger men who have more of an issue with the openness, posing questions of whether notions of heteronormative respectability are good or bad or somewhere inbetween.
Ashley D Gayle and Robert Rees are good fun as Conor and Robbie, as volatile (and violent) as Elyot and Amanda but bigger fans of Tina Turner. Jake Mitchell-Jones and Rolando Montecalvo have more interesting dramatic roles as Mal and Rayyan, their difference in perspective both with each other and their loved ones throwing up some interesting conversations about compromise and commitment. And making a striking professional debut, Øystein Lode’s wry Sebastian is a refreshing counterpoint to all the drama.
Gregor Donnelly’s set design makes good use of the new-found technical capabilities of the King’s Head, all-encompassing projections and live video working well. Equally, there’s still some learning to be done about sightlines, the shallowness of the rake meaning extended scenes of people lying or sitting too easily disappear behind the backs of heads. For a farce, Exhibitionists could afford to be sharper in its writing but as a genial comedy, it is a friendly invitation wearing a blue jockstrap – a winter warmer indeed.