Joe DiPietro’s F**king Men first played at the King’s Head in 2009 and has been something of a staple show on the fringe scene in London since. It’s no wonder; DiPietro’s dialogue really shines in its pace and wit, even whilst dealing with difficult issues from HIV to closeted sexuality. Rarely do you hear an audience roar with laughter as they did at this, myself included. Occasionally moving and always incisive, the dialogue never preaches or wallows. It is refreshing, when so many plays about sexuality deal with shame and suffering, to see a play that brims with adrenaline and queer joy. Following a cast of recurring characters across ten sexual encounters, there is never a sense that the characters should be ashamed of their sexuality or promiscuity. As one character insists on reiterating – it’s just another way of connecting. Quoting Forster, as that character does so often, only connect.

Credit: Darren Bell

The play has clearly undergone some updates since 2009; an interview with DiPietro in the programme makes clear that director Steven Kunis helped to update the show for a modern audience, as seen in the use of hook-up apps and the pitfalls of shared cloud software. Adding to the modern feel, Kunis’s vision is almost cinematic in his use of rectangular screens, changing from transparent to opaque to provide an equivalent to television’s split-screen effect. Designer Cara Evans has done a sterling job with this set, which is minimalist in props but delineates those encounters with precision, using silhouettes to enhance both moments of intimacy and violence. 

The difficulty with a play structured as a series of vignettes is that it lacks momentum, and at its weakest points this play feels a little like a list – we know who the final interaction would be with (the first character, cementing the play’s circularity), and we can’t help but wait for him in lieu of a resolution to anticipate. A cast of four rotates through many characters, alternating accents and physicalities to help delineate them. In places, a little more variety would have been nice, but most of the characters are clearly drawn, and though sometimes caricaturish, always recognisable. Special praise must go to Derek Mitchell’s pretentious author, who had the audience rolling in the aisles with his inane verbosity.

Without trivialising any of the issues it presents, F**king Men manages to be riotous, and an utter joy to watch. It reminds one of the wide and varied worlds of queerness in the variety of its characters and takes real pleasure from that. Rightly so; this play is unapologetic in its queerness and deserves every bit of its reputation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

F**king Men is on at Waterloo East Theatre until the 18th of June; tickets and more info can be found here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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