UP4AMEET? AT THE CRESCENT THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Monday 22 - Wednesday 24 July (at Crescent Theatre, tour ongoing)
Performance Reviewed: Wednesday 24 July
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
PLEASE NOTE: Although this review does not contain adult language or any full nudity, it does refer to the adult content within the show. As such, reader discretion should be advised.
From it’s brazenly homoerotic posters and marketing through to the first (of many) flashes of no-holds-barred, full-frontal male nudity within literally the opening thirty seconds, Up4aMeet makes no qualms about the kind of show it is going to be. Fabulously gratuitous, gloriously camp and peppered with an acerbic wit and cheeky tone that keeps it all feeling knowingly tongue-in-cheek, this is the perfect kind of guilty pleasure theatre experience for the Grindr age that deserves to become something of a gay cult favourite.
The show as a whole has an air of sassy 90’s Brit-Com about it, echoes of Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and even Absolutely Fabulous in tone and execution, by way of Russell T Davies’ seminal gay drama Queer as Folk (which I did notice an orgasm quip had been borrowed from). It’s decidedly gay-oriented, and it’s certainly difficult to envisage those unfamiliar with the likes of Grindr (replaced here by identical phone app C*ckShop), or the likes of ‘NSA’ and questions of ‘Top or Bottom?’ getting as much mileage and investment out of the show. That being said, there is still plenty of witty interplay, casual nudity and general fun and silliness to make Up4aMeet an easy recommendation for a shamelessly entertaining night out.
Following the lives and entanglements both professional and romantic of a group of residents sharing the same apartment building, Up4aMeet is decidedly something of an ensemble piece. We are first introduced to Grant (Chris Wills), a young gay man facing something of a confidence and identity crisis, feeling he doesn’t quite fit into the wider gay world around him, and his best friend, Z-list celebrity agent Caroline (Penny Tasker), whose work is on the downturn and still facing the ignominy of her last big client being the late, not-so-great Jimmy Savile. They are joined by Grant’s flatmate, Carlos (Benedict Garrett) who gets a minor subplot involving his inability to express any visible grief at the recent loss of his father, but is mostly a walking, accented advert for the (admittedly impressive) male form and general gay promiscuity (he frequently disappears solely for the purposes of ‘having a w*nk’ or to sleep with his third or fourth conquest of the day).
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the building is fifty-something Julian (Michael Blore), who rounds out the trifecta of gay archetypes by being a Shirley Bassey-obsessed, drag-wearing queen who likewise is feeling out of the loop and somewhat past his prime. The unifying mcguffin of the piece is the aforemention app, a social media link for gay men to chat and connect, and one which leads to stolen identities, fake profiles and all manner of admittedly well-executed and at times unexpected twists and developments that I shan’t spoil.
Rounding out the core cast are the show’s two big marketed draws - X Factor 2009’s Lloyd Daniels (he was with Cheryl!) and Big Brother’s most tantrum-prone but endlessly entertaining former housemate Nikki Grahame. Not part of the shows original lineup, Nikki plays Z-lister Stacey Grainger, one of Caroline’s last remaining clients, and it’s a role fully immersed in it’s own irony, a huge reserve of Stacey’s dialogue being some of Grahame’s most memorable Big Brother lines of dialogue (including a terrific reversal of her now infamous ‘Who is she!?’ outburst). Daniels plays Scott, a young man who enters Julian’s life (and apartment) under somewhat ambiguous and uncertain circumstances.
The storyline bounces between the characters at a swift pace and there are plenty of neat little set pieces, crossed wires or conflict that has them all interacting and playing off of each other throughout. It occasionally dips timidly into more insightful and serious commentary on social issues, as expected usually with something of a gay slant, but the show is certainly at its best when it is being comedic and borderline farcical, which is thankfully most of the time. That being said, it is in places disarmingly clever given the overall campy nature of the show, and there were times I was genuinely surprised by a couple of the shows narrative turns and deviations, and overall a much bolder and more involved attempt at a theatre-worthy plot and structure than I had go in expecting.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss Up4aMeet and not address the issue of nudity. Plastered across the show’s posters and programme are warnings and prefaces and they are very certainly justified. From the outset as mentioned, you will see plenty of bum, willies and eventually even boobies, usually courtesy of Garrett who spends practically his entire time on stage completely naked and even has a fun and knowing soliloquy poking fun at the nudity and show as a whole that, whilst being a bit on-the-nose and obvious, the audience certainly lapped up. It’s difficult to assess and comment on the nudity as a whole, with other reviews somewhat unfairly citing it as being excessive or an overt marketing tactic. However, so often in theatre shows which revolve around adult issues or sexuality coyly shy around actually show any form of nudity on-stage, and whilst Up4aMeet does perhaps go barnstorming off in completely the other direction, it’s hard to not feel the show would lose something of its identity and unashamed confidence were it to be watered down at all. Again, this is a show which is completely self-aware and screaming its own brashness, so the nudity really is all part of the fun, egregious package (if you’ll excuse the pun).
Performance wise, the cast do a spirited job, with Daniels suitably attractive (both in clothes and out), and whilst not an actor by trade gives an easy, un-showy turn that makes his Scott a grounded and believable beacon of normality amongst the madness. Grahame is an absolute delight and a real hoot essentially playing herself, and whilst those who weren’t won over by her during her time in the Big Brother household will likely not find anything to change their perceptions of her here, but her feisty, energetic presence and hilariously bratty character, given extra zest by dint of the ironic casting, genuinely adds a welcome dynamic to the production as a whole, and again it’s hard not to imagine the show feeling a lot less vibrant without her.
The three central gay characters are also cemented with fun, effective performances. Michael Blore gets perhaps the most stereotypical role as aging queen Julian, and yet despite the broad strokes with which the character is written, he plays each quip and cliche with vim, and whilst it’s a character we’ve seen many times before, Blore has terrific fun with the role and evidently gives it his all. The already-discussed Benedict Garrett should be given additional credit for his disarmingly convincing Spanish accent and, befitting his stripper pedigree, a suitably physical turn rife with plenty of dancing, gyrating and the obligatory mincing. Chris Wills as Grant is earnest and endearing and in many ways unearths the shows heart and humanity amongst the comedy and capers. Like Daniels‘ Scott, he is a less showy and more introvert character than those around him, and Wells is supremely likeable and boyishly charming in the role.
Ironically though, in a play so rippling with testosterone and gay flavouring, the real star of the show is undoubtedly Penny Tasker who gives a brilliantly judged comedic turn as Caroline. Bouncing off of practically every character with ease, tearing the full comic potential out of practically every line of dialogue or physical beat, Tasker’s RADA training is evident throughout with some terrific instincts for character and timing in particular. Her Caroline is a character that could very easily be excised and slotted into a major sitcom (I’m thinking BBC Three in particular) and comfortably do the rounds with fellow professionals and major TV comedy talent, so confident, capable and controlled is Tasker’s performance throughout. She also gets to benefit from her character being most closely linked to Grahame’s Z-lister Stacey, bringing some fun feminine clashes to the mix, and Wells’ subdued, grounded turn as Grant, with the pairs friendship being one of the more accessible and empathetic elements of the show.
In all, Up4aMeet is an irrepressible slice of camp silliness that makes no pretence about what it is from the outset. Go in expecting any meaningful social commentary or exploration into issues of sexuality, or indeed anything approaching high-brow theatre and you will very definitely, and indeed very immediately, find yourself disappointed. With its overt and obvious marketing (featuring naked male models who aren’t even in the play!) such confusion should not be an issue however, and if you’re going in with the right mindframe - to expect a naughty, uncompromising and crude romp which tackles everything from glory holes to the infamous ‘2 girls, 1 Cup’ viral (if you are unfamiliar, I certainly advise against googling) - then you should find yourself having plenty of laughs and giggles and a big old dose of theatrical ‘NSF’.
You may need to Google that one. Wink face.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
UP4AMEET has now finished its run at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham. It continues it's tour across various venues in the UK, beginning with The Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea.
Press tickets for this performance of Up4aMeet? were provided courtesy of the Crescent Theatre directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.