The party’s in full-swing at Ben’s flat, fuelled & sustained by a potent cocktail mix of chemical friends G (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), T(crystal meth) & MKat. The bed is central and the sex is unmitigated, a roundelay of partners & positions. The mandate is to prolong the blowout indefinitely, gratification paramount. PrEP (as a protectant against HIV) is an absolute requirement. Undetectable status (in which viral loads are undetectable and unable to be transmitted) must be maintained. Writer/director Adam Zane’s script following the fortunes (and occasional downfalls) of a quintet of Mancunian club boys is unapologetically hedonistic and uninhibited, expecting to be met with open mind and understanding heart. The prudish & judgemental need not attend. Although fictional, Zane constructed his material around conversations he had with LBGTQI+ organisations and denizens of the Manchester club scene, taking the pulse of current issues & concerns within the community. The characters may be composites of interviewees, but Zane and his exceptional cast bring them to full, fearless, vivid individual life. Humour-rude, crude, raucous-is in abundance. Jock straps and leather halters are the wardrobe choice. Naked bums are defiantly on display (the cast has worked overtime on their toning).

Credit: Dawn Kilner

Structured around four jock night club events across a six-month period, from June through December, Zane charts the shifting alliances and relationships of the group of men, stalwarts Ben, Russ & Kam and newbies AJ and Simon. Defined & linked by their pursuit of pleasure and fondness for drugs, the old friends are mostly content in their unquestioning dynamic of shared experience, comfortably sleeping with multiple partners and engaging in orgies. It is Ben, the oldest of the bunch, who is experiencing a slow shift in perspective, drifting towards the idea of a more stable relationship. David Paisley, with his powerfully physical presence, imbues Ben with a contrasting-and beguilingly gentle- melancholic, wounded edge, his sensitive eyes registering a vast bewilderment. With quiet strength, he bears the responsibility for the others, looking after them as best he can. Great comedy is derived from the blank-eyed reactions from the younger guys to Ben’s references to classic Julie Walters and Victoria Wood routines. Sam Goodchild as Kam excels at the caustic quip, his quicksilver, outlandish wit provoking some of the biggest laughs of the evening. A devotee of Coronation Street in all its flamboyant flourish and commemoration of its long-suffering but resilient female characters, Kam lives life at full-throttle. Goodchild makes it clear Kam is one step ahead of everyone else, the smartest and canniest of them all, even through the chemical haze. Yet it’s a raw, precarious self-awareness. Matthew Gent’s dim but lovable Russell, coasting with simple euphoria and uncomplicated agenda through the proceedings, is the story’s sweet soul, although a late-scene, end-of-party revelation startles with its deep well of anguish, insight and regret, beautifully delivered by Gent. Levi Payne’s AJ provides a fresh, innocent angle, the possibility of clear-eyed, straightforward sex, without the traps of stimulants. It is George Hughes’s Simon/Hunter character (“not a porn star, but a porn performer”, as the group refers to him) who comes closest to being villainous, calculating in his desire to upset balance. He is duplicitous, secretive, selfish-and perhaps the most lost and in pain, staring out at an incomprehensible world. Even so, Zane does not abandon him to mere scoundrel, allowing him an opportunity for redemption.

Credit: Dawn Kilner

Perhaps Zane’s greatest achievement is in convincing an audience to care greatly for a group of men who don’t always care too much for themselves. A viewer is unable to deny the humanity of any of the characters, best and worst instincts on display. Through all the seemingly superficial play, stronger connections have been imperceptibly building, almost unbeknownst to the participants. By the end, the men have been able to define themselves for themselves, quite outside heteronormative pressures or indeed pressures from within their own gay circle. No matter if things don’t last, what matters is that they are fine right now, Ben concludes wisely. Zane & his cast have seen to the spectrum of experience and behaviour without resorting to criticism or moralising, just respectful observance. Some major, disruptive late-term developments cause a bit of emotional whiplash but are understandable from a purely narrative drive for dramatic effect. There is the mature resistance to conclude on an entirely tidy note, suspension maintained. 

The soundtrack surges with pop divas and dance anthems, irresistible declarations of self-belief and freedom, the music encapsulating the hopes and desires of these questing men.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

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