'Four Play' is on at Above the Stag in January 2020, with a new cast. This review is from 2016.
Pete and Rafe have a problem: they’ve been together for seven years, and all they know is each other. So to give their relationship a shot in the arm, they decide to find someone else they can sleep with – separately. It needs to be someone they trust, but don’t know too well. (Or as Rafe puts it: ‘Not someone we might bump into in Sainsbury’s or catch HIV from.’) So they enlist the services of up-for-it Michael (currently in an open relationship with Andrew).
Naturally, Pete and Rafe’s scheme awakens far more issues than it resolves. Andrew is at first detachedly amused by Michael’s arrangement – then his voicemails to his boyfriend become increasingly clingy. By this point, the sparks flying between Michael and Pete suggest something beyond no-strings experimentation. And as the play progresses to a toe-curling showdown over dinner, we realise that neither couple is as content as first might seem.
What emerges is a reflection on monogamy and commitment, and how they co-exist in the twenty-first century. It seems ironic that Jake Brunger was originally commissioned to write a ‘state of the nation gay play’, since these are themes that will resonate across all orientations. What’s harder is squaring the serious stuff against the nudge-wink naughtiness that characterises the rest of it (the title’s innuendo being a good indication). And an over-reliance on twee middle-class anxieties – house prices outside London, the dangers of re-heating prawns – becomes irksome.
But while it’s played for easy laughs in places, ‘Four Play’ is hard to bear a grudge against. Peter Hannah stands out as the conflicted, self-loathing Michael, and Cecilia Carey’s set accommodates the fast-changing scenes. Too serious to be trivial, and too silly to be hard-hitting, it’s always entertaining.