★★★★½ A journey into the dark side of the chemically enhanced gay scene.
Ice (crystal, meth) pervades the planet. It has no respect for geographic or social boundaries. Judges can become junkies. It can turn the most benign aged pensioner into a hardened criminal. Yet, in company with its sexually stimulating cousins, “G” and mephedrome, ice has had a specific pernicious impact on the gay scene.
British playwright Patrick Cash’s The Chemsex Monologues provides a snapshot of that contemporary scene though the voices of four participants, a narrator (Richard Watkins), a young twink ‘Nameless’ (Damien Killeen), ‘Fag Hag Cath’ (Remy Moynes) and a Sexual Health Worker, Daniel (Richard Unwin).
So, what is chemsex? Haven’t drugs like poppers always been a part of the gay scene? Well, yes, but chemsex is where a group of gay strangers gather together for a “chillout”, where the drugs are taken specifically prior to the sexual encounter and the sex is “chem formed”.
Cash doesn’t shy away from the power of the high nor from the sex act itself, the way the drug relaxes the anal sphincter and the “intense eroticism” of entering the bottom and the thrusting – although ejaculation is the exception rather than the rule.
The Narrator romanticises his first encounter with Nameless and what turns out to the beginnings of love, but it’s one way and when Nameless tells his story, we learn that he has recently lost his boyfriend to an overdose. It’s Cath and Daniel, however, who open the audience up to the dark side of chemsex. Cath watches her BFF Steve get increasingly more addicted and withdrawn to the point where she realises that she has to choose between the friendship and her child.
While he envies his clients for the unlimited sex they can access, Daniel’s analysis gets to the heart of where this subculture emanates: Why do people take drugs, happiness, euphoria, ecstacy, to be outside oneself. Why do we want to be outside ourselves? Why has love and friendship been replaced by rape, enforced prostitution and positive men intending to infect others. Are gay men still insufficiently comfortable in their own skin, is gay love still illegitimate or unworthy, and so is it better to numb yourself and have the best sex available?
Staged simply with four monologues and only a chair as a prop, The Chemsex Monologues was compelling from beginning to end. The British cast were excellent and the 70 minutes flew by. The play ended with the Narrator returning with an epilogue that takes place two years later. He is in love with Nameless, Nameless is too iced out to realise, but he ruefully agrees to care for the young “superstud” for what looks inevitably to be a fatal addiction. True love emerges, but it’s unrequited. No solutions are offered, love is sidelined and chemsex reigns, but why should the gay scene be different from the rest of society.
The Chemsex Monologues is at the German Club, Adelaide as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival until March 19