By Patrick Cash
I wrote my first article about ‘chemsex’ in 2013, when working for a gay nightlife magazine. Since then the subject has exploded into the media limelight, with the ubiquitous Vice
documentary released last year and a multitude of Very Worried articles. I freely admit to contributing to the feeding frenzy: I’ve written twice in print for Attitude
about the subject, and write monthly online to promote the Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs night.
What seems to sometimes get lost in the Great Scare of Chemsex, is the people themselves. Beyond their drug use, group sex and insufferable naughtiness, who are these men? What do they desire and dream and fear? That’s why when I was asked to write new play The Chemsex Monologues
for the recent European Chemsex Forum, I wanted to concentrate on the humanity of the characters in this world. As our tagline reads: loveable people.
The play received a beautiful reaction when it premiered, and is beginning a week’s run at the King’s Head Theatre on May 17th. It contains familiar characters from the chemsex scene: the 19-year-old club night poster boy, the archetypal chillout host Old Mother Meph, the Dealer Adonis. But I also wanted to look at the scene from different angles, so we meet a fag hag partying with her gay best friend, and a sexual health worker who’s tempted after a sauna…
All these characters are brought to life by our awesomely talented cast at Dragonflies Theatre
. And I’ve asked the actors to write about their characters below, to tell a little more about the play and the people we’re portraying.
Rich Watkins, the Narrator
My character's journey is a classic tale of boy-meets-boy. A particularly drunken evening in Soho turns into an unexpected chem-infused night, journeying from the Vauxhall club to a nearby chillout, where he makes an unforgettable connection. I have found my character - who is known simply as The Narrator - to be easily identifiable. An outside observer, he bears witness to the action around him, both touching and traumatic. As a Londoner, I have watched the Chemsex scene grow and grow and have seen the euphoria it can bring, while at times feeling powerless to its impact upon our community. I identify with my character's journey, as he discovers this world of heavy drugs, heightened emotions and fragile minds, because I have been on that very journey myself. As have many within our community.
Denholm Spurr, Nameless
"The more time I spend in the shoes of Nameless, the more I realise how nameless I was when I arrived in London; and that it’s quite a common condition. We think that with equal marriage we’ve achieved acceptance but the reality is that young gay men are still routinely struggling with acceptance within their own families, they feel outcast and arrive in London having stripped away a lifetime of identity with a family they no longer feel a part of. I felt like this when I came out on the gay scene: nameless to my family with the identity I’d spent years fabricating lying in tatters around me. It’s also blissful to realise how far I’ve come, how that same scene has given me a new name that is far stronger and inclusive than any name I could have hoped to have had before. Becoming Nameless can be part of a Gay Renaissance if you have the strength to make it through… It’s heartbreaking that many do not."
Charly Flyte, Fag Hag Cath
"Cath is loving, optimistic, loyal and a natural story teller. As a young queer teenager in London I found myself entering the gay scene and with it bearing witness to the use of party drugs and how these began affecting the sexual identity of those around me. I think The Chemsex Monologues
is a radical examination of a very current culture that is often unspoken. I feel my job as an actor is at its most fulfilling when giving a voice to those who are rarely heard and because of this I'm so proud to be doing this show."
Matthew Hodson, Daniel the Sexual Health Worker
"Daniel is a sexual health worker who, one particularly lonely evening, finds himself at a chill-out party, surrounded by near-naked drugged up men.
Because I also work in sexual health, I see all too often the very real damage that chemsex does to individuals. A gay man in the UK is now more likely to die as a result of chemsex than he is as a result of HIV. For some though, using chems is just a way of enhancing their sex lives and they manage to stay in control of their drug use. Like Daniel, I’m passionate about helping people, making sure that they’re well-informed and that they have the power to take care of their own health. I empathise with Daniel when he asks, why do so many gay men feel the need to change their reality by using drugs? The truth is that there are no easy answers.
"There is no magic bullet that can prevent all of the harms that arise from chemsex but if a solution exists it will incorporate looking at the reasons why gay men use drugs, rather than just magically wishing all drugs out of existence. I’m pleased to be taking part in a show that explores the subject, honestly but also with humour and heart."
The Chemsex Monologues is running from May 17-21 at the King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, N1 1QN. Tickets £18, £15 concs (£10 previews 17th). Click here to book tickets.
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