Above the Stag
Above the Stag Theatre (Studio)
After seven and a half years in a monogamous relationship since they first fell in love with each other at university, Pete and Rafe are beginning to wonder whether they have been missing something since neither (they claim) has ever known another sexual partner. At Pete’s instigation, they approach an acquaintance, a partner of someone they knew at uni, someone not too close, nor a stranger that it would be embarrassing to encounter later in the queue in a supermarket in the future but someone they can trust with no risk of HIV.
Originally commissioned by the Old Vic and first seen at Theatre 503 four years ago, the play’s punning title may suggest a sex farce but, though a strong streak of humour runs through it, this isn’t just a camp comedy and these aren’t clichéd gay characters. It’s a serious look at something that can affect any long-term relationship, straight or gay, reflecting the imbalance and insecurities that seem inevitable.
Matthew Iliffe’s production begins with Ashley Byam as an embarrassed and faltering Rafe apparently explaining their proposal to the audience before he turns and they realise he is actually putting their request to Michael (Declan Spaine) partner of former university friend Andrew, the guy who finally agrees to spend one night with each of them.
Carrie-Ann Stein’s pristine white set serves as the kitchen for both households so the action moves rapidly as it presents Peter (Keeran Blessie) and Rafe’s reactions and the repercussions for Michael and Andrew who have what they describe as an “open” relationship
Byam and Blessie are totally convincing as the settled couple with silent Pete’s face as Rafe explains things very revealingly. Spaine makes us believe that, though he sleeps around, Michael is genuinely in love with his partner while Marc MacKinnon, a firmly faithful Andrew, movingly displays both his insecurity and a core reliability beneath a rather fluttery surface.
Jake Brunger’s play feels honest and truthful and these performances are too.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton