‘Daddies and twinks and bears, oh my!’

Grindr: The Opera premiered at Above the Stage in 2018 and went on to win the Off West End Award for Best New Musical. Erik Ransom’s satirical production blends operatic and pop music styles to create a dramatic and amusing show which shines a light on the gay hook-up app.

Credit: Brittain Photography

Grindr is represented in person form by Christian Lunn, dressed in a leather harness, corset, black feathers, flowy trousers and high heels, Grindr is a lurking presence, always there watching, ready to jump back in when things go awry. The book follows two very different encounters facilitated by Grindr, in one, Devon and Tom meet to hook up and find there may be something more between the two of them; elsewhere the older Don meets Jack, who is immediately put off by Don’s age, yet is offered money in exchange for sex and therefore complies, ending up in a situation he did not consent to, as he wasn’t told what Don was planning to do.

David Shields’ set consists of Church arches with screens behind, on which stained glass windows are projected, amongst other projections throughout the show. The projections are often completely unrelated to what is occurring on stage and serve as a distraction rather than a device to elevate the storytelling.

Ransom’s score is excellent, the entire performance is sung through, similar to an opera, with no spoken dialogue. There are a lot of musical numbers within the production, Act 1 contains 20 songs, and Act 2 contains 9: with the band playing non-stop, displaying incredible skill and stamina. Some of the numbers are dramatic, some are more heartfelt, but with so many songs, at times they begin to feel quite repetitive. There’s a nod to the Village People in one song, which is comical, however, ‘The Clinic’ is one of the highlights of the show; with Doctor Devon seeing multiple patients, played by Grant Jackson (Cupiditas), the repeated gag builds with hilarity into a laugh out loud number. Jackson’s asides to the audience, their disapproving looks, and facial expressions add humour to the performance, and their reactions to what’s unfolding onstage captive attention. Billy J Vale as Tom displays stunning vocals and an impressive falsetto.

Credit: Brittain Photography

Ransom’s script contains some witty lyrics, but not everything is as hilarious as it could be, there are a few times when a character says a swear word, which is placed to cause laughter, this feels slightly lazy – a witty line or joke would be much more effective. The book highlights the experiences of many on Grindr, showing the standards of ‘don’t be old don’t be fat’, how difficult it can be to navigate this online world, but only briefly mentioning grappling with shame; although we see Don is struggling with this, it’s not explored. The storyline with Doctor Devon feels far-fetched in places, and although the ending is hilarious when first revealed, it then becomes quite drawn out, as there are multiple moments when the show could have ended but did not. The book feels surface-level at times, there are different themes brought up in the line of a song, never to be spoken of again, where a deeper dive into these would have given the show more depth.

Grindr: The Opera is a great concept, with some great performances and stunning music it’s camp, it’s fun, and it’s unique – there is room to exaggerate the comedic elements, and diving deeper into the themes presented would elevate the show.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Grindr: The Opera is on at Union Theatre until the 8th of July – find out more here!

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

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