Grindr: The Opera
Above the Stag Theatre (Main House)
In case you don’t know, Grindr is a mobile dating app designed to enable gay men to make rapid contact with other guys. It offers a choice of available men in the neighbourhood with photos and details they have posted. I’ve never used it so read up on Wikipedia to be better briefed but you won’t need to know more to enjoy this operatic musical which calls itself “an unauthorised parody”.
I’m not sure what it is parodying: dating apps? boy gets boy, boy loses boy storylines? modern gay mores? All three in fact and its tongue-in-cheek jokiness has some serious points to make too.
There is no nudity and simulated sexual activity is always under the covers but talk and song is sexually very explicit so this isn’t a show for the children or most aunties’ birthday treat.
Its writer is American and it premièred there, but for this British production references have been made local with one of the characters identifying himself as “a Brexit-voting, Tory toff”.
Don’t expect Verdi or Sondheim. After a baroque aria from Grindr, personified as a bare-chested male diva, comes a cornucopia of numbers that draw on a range of musical theatre styles as they run the whole gamut from solos to septets.
Laptops get replaced by smart phones to an ensemble rendition of “I’m going on a Manhunt” (which sums up Grindr’s raison d’être) before introducing the characters and starting the story of two couples meeting on Grindr: one a romantic success story, the other an unfortunate encounter. Grindr is the catalyst that brings them together but which makes things go wrong too, as they all discover when all four find themselves together in confrontation.
Glamorous Grindr, flaunting himself, is soaringly sung by Christian Lunn. He is attended by a couple of adoring sidekicks Occulto (Tom Blackmore) and Dilectus (Robby Khela). This hilariously caricatured queeny camp duo act as prop men and furniture shifters and fill in small roles as well as boosting the voice power.
David Malcolm plays romantic Devon, a doctor in an STD clinic trying Grindr for the first time, Matthew Grove is the more worldly Tom whom he choses from the plethora of men the app offers him. Together they prove a near perfect partnership. A year later, their problems might be those of any couple but it's Grindr that wrecks things.
William Spencer plays Jack, a young Twink who knows what he’s up to but finds himself faced with someone who doesn’t look like the pictures he put on Grindr or behave by the rule book: Don, who is a sadistic closet gay and a married city councillor.
Erik Ransom has invented the story and written both music and lyrics. The tunes aren’t particularly memorable but lively and appropriate and his lyrics packed with fine rhyme. (Just how many are there that match lust and thrust?) Tom tells nervous first-timer Devon: “It’s been a while / Just breathe and smile / You’re not on trial.”
Love may be versatile, as one number reminds us, but “Why can’t I find a normal bloke” is one plea on reviewing what’s available. “They think they need me / But they delete me” is a reminder of the Grindr put-down but, though Ransom points out some of Grindr’s set-backs and dangers, it is also clear that its put-downs are not nearly so painful as rejections made face to face and, who knows, some guys get really lucky.
While so much of social media leaves people looking at screens, Grindr at least brings some of them face to real face.