"What does it mean?" asked a woman friend. "Does it mean BLOODY men or does it mean the other thing?" It means the other thing. The production at the Arts is the play's fourth London outing.
F**king Men has lost two letters and gained two asterisks since its move from the King's Head to the West End, which is an advance on Shopping and F****** which lost six letters and gained six asterisks and which you were meant to pronounce as "Shopping and Effing". The box office staff was outraged when I tried to book a seat and used the full word.
Joe DiPietro's script - so much better than the porn title leads you to expect - takes its inspiration from Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde and is a series of erotic encounters between sexually active men, some of whom are looking for the kindness of strangers in saunas and broom cupboards.
The characters include an escort, a soldier (who pretends he is not gay), a college student who seduces a teacher, an idealistic porn star, a playwright who writes plays nobody wants to see (a cheap caricature) and a major movie star who wants to come out of the closet on a prime time television chat show (an unlikely story).
The play is a carnal hymn to promiscuity with and without condoms. There is, however, no gratuitous nudity. (If you want gratuitous nudity see Naked Boys Singing at the same address). Any sex which is simulated on stage is in the dark.
Phil Willmott's efficiently dovetailed production could do with some cutting, but it is well acted by a talented ensemble and Adam Unze is particularly good as the porn star.
Incidentally, Schnitzler banned all performances of La Ronde after the riots in 1921 and it was not performed on stage, in England at any rate, until it came out of copyright in 1982. There were three instant productions, none of them successful. The best production remains Max Ophul's superbly cast romantic 1950 film version.
Has anybody thought of reviving La Ronde in its proper Viennese fin de siècle period but with an all-male cast?
"F**king Men" is running in repertory with "Naked Boys Singing" at the Arts Theatre and there are ticket price concessions if you see both.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch