The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

May the power of the brolly live on!

British. Londoner. Public/Charity sector. Theatre, film and TV geek, writer and reviewer. Sherlockian. Campaigner. Gandhian. Tatchellite. All views my own.

The blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
- Dinah Craik, in A Life for a Life (1859)

Film Highlight: Manchester by the Sea
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I first saw Manchester by the Sea as part of the BFI London Film Festival in 2016 and it was, without doubt, my favourite film of the festival and one of my favourite films of 2016. It really struck a chord with me, moved me profoundly, and stayed with me for a long time after. Put very simply, it blew me away. I saw it again last month when it went on general release across the UK, and my initial view of it remains unchanged.

I was delighted to see it win 2 BAFTAs on Sunday (12 February) - Kenneth Lonergan won for Original Screenlay and Casey Affleck won for Leading Actor.

In summary, my strong advice is ... catch this whilst you can ... it is in cinemas now!

Cut and pasted from the BFI London Film Festival website:

Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams shine in this devastating drama from Kenneth Lonergan, about a man’s painful hometown return.

USA 2016

Tender, brutal and utterly mesmerising, Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature as director is one of the most visually eloquent and emotionally devastating explorations of grief and redemption in recent cinema.

Casey Affleck gives an indelible, career-defining performance as the laconic, calcified Lee, a man whose spare existence is suddenly ruptured when the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) forces him to return to the hometown he abandoned years before. Rocked by contact with his estranged ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the revelation that Joe has made him guardian of his teenage son (Lucas Hedges), Lee’s private torment deepens.

Lonergan harnesses all the cinematic potency of the wild and durable Massachusetts locations to magnify the unfathomable inner turmoil of a man so shattered by the consequences of one single mistake that he cannot reverse his retreat from life, even when faced with the responsibility of caring for someone else.

The primary tragedy is revealed through a series of flashbacks that imbue the narrative with a foreboding urgency, often triggered by an emotional response to place, spoken exchanges, or the knowing stares and whispers of the townspeople.

This is exacting filmmaking, profound and overwhelming.
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Winter TV Highlights
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January can be a dark and depressing month, so I thought I would promote two new excellent TV drama series (one on the BBC and one on ITV) which have been/will be keeping me going over the Winter.

Taboo, BBC One, Saturdays 9.15pm
1814: James Keziah Delaney returns to London from Africa and is encircled by conspiracy, murder and betrayal.

The Halcyon, ITV, Mondays 9pm
Period drama series about a bustling and glamorous grand hotel in wartime London (World War II).

I am enjoying both Series immensely so I hope you all enjoy them too :)
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New Year TV Highlight: Sherlock Series 4, Sunday 1 January, 8.30pm, BBC One
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With Christmas 2016 well and truly over, we can look forward to the New Year and 2017. My New Year TV Highlight is - obviously - the return of Sherlock in Series 4, where all questions will be answered, and all mysteries solved - not!

Christmas TV Highlight: Grantchester Christmas Special, Christmas Eve, 9pm, ITV
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Just promoting my personal Christmas TV highlight which is the Grantchester Christmas Special on Christmas Eve on ITV at 9pm. ITV screening this on Christmas Eve has literally MADE my Christmas!

Grantchester, for the uninitiated, is a crime series/murder mystery series, set in 1950s Grantchester, Cambridge, England, post Second World War, where the crime solving team is made up of a Vicar, the Reverend Sidney Chambers, played by James Norton, and a police officer, Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, played by Robson Green.

If you want to know more about Grantchester and, in particular, why I love it so much, you can read all about it in my special Grantchester feature here:
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Crime Scene: Issue 6
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Definitely going to get this issue! I have bought previous issues of this magazine (Crime Scene) and, if you are into crime, it is definitely worth getting. There is very comprehensive coverage of crime across a range of genres - film, TV and books.

Sherlocked Convention - ExCeL London, 24 - 25 September 2016
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I attended the second Sherlocked Convention at the ExCeL Centre, London on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 September 2016 and my personal highlight (obviously!) was ...

Beetles from the West, Hope Theatre - Review
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My EQView feature this week is a review of Beetles from the West at the Hope Theatre, a new play that delves deeply into the complex issues of masculinity, men’s health, and prostate cancer. It is an exceptional new play, very powerfully performed, very much from the heart. It is the best of what the fringe has to offer and I am awarding it a maximum five shining stars!

My EQView review of Beetles from the West at the Hope Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


Beetles from the West is a new play that delves deeply into the complex issues of masculinity, men’s health, and prostate cancer.

As you enter the theatre, you walk in on a tense scene. A young man and a young woman are in a hospital waiting room, the young man is pacing the room, and you can cut the air with a knife. Your eyes are drawn to the clock on the wall, as the hands crawl around slowly. You are thrust into the heart of the action before the play has even started.

When the play begins, you learn the two young people are Boyd and his girlfriend, Jenny, who are waiting to hear news about Boyd’s father, who has been rushed to hospital. After what feels like an eternity, a young doctor enters the room to explain what is happening. Boyd’s father is very ill. The doctor is awaiting test results, but it appears likely Boyd’s father has prostate cancer. The doctor needs the test results to confirm the diagnosis and to see how far the cancer has spread.

This news hits Boyd like a bombshell. His father is the one who has brought him up and who has always been there for him. Boyd’s father is his rock and the firm foundation on which his life has been built. Boyd looks up to his father and idol worships him. His father was a soldier, and he has always been tough, fit and strong – he has never been sick in his whole life. He is a giant in Boyd’s eyes and invincible. Boyd is very suspicious of the diagnosis – he simply cannot believe his father has cancer.

As the news sinks in, Boyd’s initial denial turns to anger. He is angry with his father for ignoring the warning signs, for not talking to him about his illness, and for not seeking medical help earlier. And Boyd is angry with himself for not noticing something was wrong. If only, if only …

Throughout the play, each of the characters is given a monologue, and each of the monologues is a vivid memory from their childhood or from their teenage years, which gives us a real insight into their characters and their relationship with their fathers. The monologues are very tender, moving and powerful, and allow us to see into the character’s soul, enriching our knowledge and understanding of the character. The monologues added real value to the play, making it a much more rewarding experience.

Beetles from the West explores many of the complex issues surrounding cancer. At first, Boyd says his father is a soldier and he will fight cancer and win. But cancer should not be seen as a battle to be fought and won, because this diminishes those whom it kills, implying they are weak. Some cancers are passed down through the generations, and cast a long shadow over the lives of children, who worry about their genetic inheritance. Despite all the recent scientific and medical advances, the C word continues to strike terror into people’s hearts and remains a disease that is greatly feared.

One of the play’s real strengths is the portrayal of the relationship between Boyd and Jenny. As they wait for the test results, they pass the time by playing a game of monopoly. This enables us to see the dynamics of their relationship, which is very modern, and grounded in equality. Boyd and Jenny have a strong, loving and fun relationship. We see the genuine love they have for each other, even when put to the test under stressful circumstances. We know Boyd’s dad really loved Jenny as a daughter, because he welcomed her into the family, and asked her to look after his son.

Jenny’s monologue gives us an insight into what makes her such a strong woman. As she recalls her childhood and her teenage years, we learn her father had clinical depression, and Jenny had to care for him and support him as best she could. It was almost as though she were the parent in that relationship, taking care of her father, not vice-versa. This is the mirror image of Boyd’s relationship with his father during his formative years.

The doctor returns to confirm the devastating news – it is cancer, the cancer has spread, and the illness is terminal. Boyd’s father has been living with the illness for a long time. He has been experiencing problems, but has kept these hidden, not sharing his burden, not talking to anyone, and not seeking medical help. This has meant the disease has taken root, has spread, and is now terminal. Boyd’s father will die, and this death could have been prevented, if his father had only sought medical help sooner.

Boyd is devastated to learn the diagnosis and the prognosis, and the news is even harder to bear knowing his father could have had a very different outcome if he had only spoken to someone or sought medical help earlier. Boyd is grief-stricken, holding on to Jenny for comfort and support.

There are two incredibly powerful performances in this play – from Ryan Penny playing Boyd and Shian Denovan playing Jenny. Both actors are exceptional in their individual roles; bring real depth and warmth to the relationship between Boyd and Jenny, making it very believable; and perform their monologues from the heart. They were both outstanding.

Beetles from the West observes the classical or Aristotelian unities for Drama – unity of action, a play should have only one main plot/storyline; unity of place, a play should occur in a single physical place; and unity of time, the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours. The play’s focus is on the prostate cancer diagnosis for Boyd’s father and its effect on Boyd and Jenny; the play takes place in a hospital waiting room; and the action takes place over one afternoon. This makes the play much more hard-hitting and immediate.

In summary, Beetles from the West was an exceptional new play, very powerfully performed, very much from the heart. It contained important messages about masculinity, men’s health and prostate cancer, highlighting the need for men to talk about their health problems, and to seek medical help when needed, without seeing this as a sign of weakness.

I think this is what theatre should be all about – sharp new writing, powerfully performed, immediate and impactful, tackling current social issues, and seeking to make a difference. This is the best of what the fringe has to offer and I am awarding it a maximum five shining stars!

Beetles from the West by Falling Pennies Theatre Company plays at the Hope Theatre (Islington) until Saturday 23 July.

Follow the links for more details:

Hamlet, Almeida Theatre
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First image: Hamlet starring Andrew Scott @ Almeida


London Pride - Saturday 25 June
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I marched with the Terrence Higgins Trust and the HIV lobby today at London Pride. We were campaigning for PrEP to be made available on the NHS.

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Odd Shaped Balls, Old Red Lion Theatre - Review
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My EQView feature this week was a review of Odd Shaped Balls at The Old Red Lion Theatre, a new play which tackles the complex issue of homophobia in sport. Short, sharp, and powerful – it packs a punch! The writing was sharp as a pin, Matthew Marrs gave a truly exceptional performance, and the very clever set simply took my breath away. One of the best fringe shows I have seen in a long time. 5 shining stars!

My EQView review of Odd Shaped Balls at The Old Red Lion Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


Odd Shaped Balls is a new play, a one-man show, which tackles the issues of homophobia and sexuality in sport, and the pressures of intrusive press and social media attention into the private lives of our sporting heroes.

The play opens with a win for the Chiltern Colts and promotion to the Premiership. James Hall is one of their star players, popular with his coach, his team mates and the fans. As the team celebrates its promotion down the local pub, you get a real sense of the macho locker room culture that exists, orientated around drinking and women. Premiership rugby stars are expected to be straight, and to either be a womaniser or to have a beautiful girlfriend/wife in tow.

James’s personal life at this point is … complicated. He has a steady girlfriend, but he has also embarked on a relationship with a man. With the team’s promotion to the Premiership, media interest in the players rises. Stories start to circulate on social media that James is in a relationship with a man, and there is a danger the press will follow the lead and break the story.

James’s life is turned upside down overnight, as he has to consider whether he is going to make a statement and go public, and what he is going to say. He also has to deal with the repercussions of the breaking story and his “outing” with his girlfriend, his parents, his family, his teammates and his friends. Is he gay?, how long has he known?, has he been living a lie?, and why hasn’t he said anything sooner? are questions now directed at James by his nearest and dearest. James’s instinctive reaction is to run and hide, but he knows he has no choice but to stand and fight. He does a media interview and confirms the story.

James and his coach decide to try and ride out the storm, and James plays in the match on Saturday. Whilst progress has been made, homophobia still lurks in sport and rugby, amongst players and fans. James’s forced disclosure puts him under a lot of pressure, and his performance is under the microscope. Homophobic chants emerge from the terraces, making James lose his concentration and focus, and putting him off his game. At the end of the match, the coach decides he has no choice but to rest James for the next few matches. James can no longer play the game loves and he is cut off from the world he knows. Realising everything he has lost, James breaks down and cries.

The play explores the idea of whether it Is possible to be a successful out gay rugby player, or whether you have to hide your sexuality if you want to succeed in the game. Times moves on, James overcomes his baptism by fire, and is able to return to the game, recover his form, and succeed again. James asks people to judge him by his performance on the pitch in the game that he loves. James emerges from the scandal as someone with integrity, who is true to himself, and who can be a role model for others coming up through the game.

Sport in general, and rugby in particular, holds absolutely no interest for me, but I was gripped from start to finish by this play because of the quality of the acting and the storytelling. The production only runs for an hour but it packs a lot of content into its short running time, and explores complex themes with sensitivity and depth.

This is a one-man show and the play rests on the very broad and capable shoulders of Matthew Marrs. Marrs is exceptional in this piece, playing all the characters – James, his Dad, his coach, his teammate, his boyfriend, his girlfriend, the press pack, and everyone else! He changes, chameleon like, from one character to the next in the blink of an eye, but you are never in any doubt which character he is playing. And each character has real-depth. Despite the serious subject matter, there is a lot of comedy in the piece, and Marrs is able to capitalise on all these comedic opportunities. Marrs’s performance is a real tour de force.

I also have to give a special mention to the very talented set designer as the set was ingenious. The theatre space was very small, and yet the set incorporates a pub, a locker room, a living room, an office, and a rugby pitch – all the key locations needed for the play. It was an incredibly clever set, and was one of the best set designs I have seen on the fringe circuit.

If I have a minor gripe with the production, it was the lighting, which was a bit too frenetic for my taste. I found the constant lighting changes distracting, and it made it harder for me to focus on the content of the play.

In conclusion, I thought Odd Shaped Balls was stunning. The short play explored the complex issue of homophobia in sport with real depth. The piece was short, sharp, and powerful – it packs a punch! The writing was sharp as a pin, Matthew Marrs gave a truly exceptional performance, and the very clever set simply took my breath away. One of the best fringe shows I have seen in a long time and I have no hesitation in awarding it a maximum 5 shining stars!

Odd Shaped Balls is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until Saturday 25 June 2016.

Follow the link for more details:

EU Ref: Brexit
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Just because ... !
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The Sins of Jack Saul, Above the Stag - Review
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My EQView feature this week was a review of The Sins of Jack Saul at Above the Stag theatre, a fabulous new musical telling the real life story of Jack Saul, the rent boy who scandalised Victorian London. Unmissable!

My EQView review of The Sins of Jack Saul at Above the Stag Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


The Sins of Jack Saul is a new musical, currently playing at Above The Stag Theatre, which tells the true story of Jack Saul, the rent boy who scandalised Victorian London.

The story begins at the end, with Jack Saul’s death in Our Lady’s Hospice, run by the Religious Sisters of Charity – in fact one of the Nuns welcomes you into the theatre! Jack’s departed soul then encounters the Devil, who promises to commute Jack’s sentence of an eternity in Hell if Jack can show him a good deed he has done.

Jack reflects on his life, his humble origins and early life in Dublin, his rise to fame and notoriety in Victorian London as a rent boy to the Establishment (aristocracy, politicians, the military, city financiers, and the very rich), and his rapid fall from grace, back into poverty and destitution in Ireland. Jack’s life may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but his story is told in a very entertaining way, packed with songs, love and laughter, and this draws you into the musical. Jack tells his own story in his own words, and the musical empowers Jack with a voice.

Jack is born and brought up in Dublin, and the musical gives you a flavour of the tensions in that City between Catholic and Protestant, and rich and poor. Jack is a poor Catholic but a serious relationship develops with a rich Protestant soldier, Lieutenant Kirwan. They are happy and in love, but the social and class divides between them are too great. When Lieutenant Kirwan decides it is too much of a risk and he may be found out, losing his lands and wealth, the relationship ends. Jack leaves for London to seek his fortune, in search of the streets paved with gold.

When Jack arrives in London, he realizes it is not so very different from Dublin, and his opportunities are limited in the same way as they were at home. One of the professions open to him is male prostitution and so he plies his trade on the “Dilly”. Jack, showing true entrepreneurial spirit, writes his memoirs, setting down all his sexual adventures and exploits. This resulting memoir, “The Sins of the Cities of the Plain”, became an infamous work of pornography.

The musical then focuses on No 19 Cleveland Street, one of the establishments Jack was working in. Cleveland Street rose to real notoriety when, following a police raid, it was found to be employing telegraph messenger boys to provide sexual favours and sexual services, to clients including Lord Arthur Somerset (equerry to the Prince of Wales), the Earl of Euston, an MP, and numerous top military personnel. Even Prince Albert Victor Edward, “Prince Eddy”, heir presumptive and grandson to Queen Victoria, was rumoured to be a client. And Jack Saul was right at the heart of this scandal.

In the wake of this scandal, with his notoriety at its height, Jack returned to Dublin. Heart-breakingly, his mother and his brother turn their back on him, shamed by his profession. His mother dies shortly after, the shock being too much for her. She had wanted her Jack to have a respectable job, like being a butler or a gentleman’s servant, wearing white gloves and living in a big house. The reality of Jack’s London life could not have been more different. And if you want to find out the Devil’s assessment of Jack’s life, you need to see the show!

This is a musical and the songs are a lot of fun, and they enable the audience to join in and participate. They include “I always wanted a man in uniform”, “It’s a fine life on the Dilly”, “Pornography”, “A Sovereign boy” and, my personal favourite, “Poses plastique”. In what could have been a very dark story, the songs add humour, and lighten the darkness.

All the actors in the production are excellent and so it would be wrong to single out any one performer. Having said that, I am going to give a special mention to Felicity Duncan, because she plays all the female roles, everything from a Nun to Jack’s mum! Every single character she plays is fully realized and has real depth. For one actor, to bring such a wide range of characters to life, and all in the same production, is a real achievement.

Jack Saul was a real person and I appreciated and respected the way in which the musical covered all aspects of his life – his parents, his family, his first love and his work, as well as the scandals. It brought Jack fully to life, with all his hopes and dreams, highlighting his determination to succeed, his resilience, and his humour. This was an in-depth exploration of Jack’s life.

The Sins of Jack Saul is by the same creative team behind last year’s smash hit Fanny & Stella – written by Glenn Chandler, music by Charles Miller, and directed by Steven Dexter. What both productions have in common is they uncover hidden LGBT lives in Victorian London, and bring them to the stage in a memorable, entertaining and fun way, by empowering these colourful characters to tell their own life histories. Both productions stay with you after you leave the theatre, imprinted on your mind.

The Sins of Jack Saul is a fabulous new musical, telling the real life story of Jack Saul, a rent boy in Victorian London. It follows his rise and fall, from the slums of Dublin, to the bright lights of London, and back again. His name forever associated with an infamous work of pornography, and the notorious Cleveland Street Scandal, this musical enables us to get to know the man behind the myth, and lets Jack tell his own story in his own words. Unmissable!

The Sins of Jack Saul plays at Above The Stag Theatre until Sunday 12 June.

Above The Stag Theatre is an award-winning theatre in Vauxhall, London with a focus on producing LGBT-themed theatre including new writing, musicals and revivals. It is the only full-time professional LGBT theatre in the UK. Follow the link for more info:

Volunteers Week
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The Chemsex Monologues, The King's Head Theatre - Review
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Photo credit: Dionysis Livanis

My EQView feature this week was a review of The Chemsex Monologues by Patrick Cash at The King's Head Theatre. The Chemsex Monologues is a rare beast – a piece of new writing that informs, educates and entertains. An incredibly powerful, moving and funny piece of writing, superbly performed throughout. Highly recommended.

My EQView review of The Chemsex Monologues at The King's Head Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


The Chemsex Monologues is a powerful piece of new writing by Patrick Cash, which played at the King’s Head Theatre last week, exploring the notorious chemsex scene.

The Chemsex Monologues is my preferred style of theatre – a small and intimate theatre space (so the audience is immersed in the story and the action), minimal props and a sparse set – a single chair. It is down to the actors to inhabit their roles, to engage the audience, and to deliver the performance. And all four actors in this piece (Richard Watkins, Denholm Spurr, Charly Flyte, and Matthew Hodson) delivered very powerful and moving performances.

The actors take it in turns to deliver their monologues, and there is only ever one actor onstage at any time. All four actors were able to command the stage, moving around so they were including everyone, speaking to everyone, and making eye-contact with everyone. They transfixed me and held my attention.

The Chemsex Monologues is a clever piece of writing because the four characters have interlocking and interconnecting stories. As the piece plays out, each monologue adds a new layer, and you get multiple points of view on each character and each story. Each monologue is one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and as the evening goes on, you start to construct a picture as you fit the different pieces together. The piece starts and ends with the same character too, so it feels as though you have completed the circle.

The Chemsex Monologues explores the chemsex scene by focusing on the stories of four individuals (Unnamed narrator, Nameless, Fag Hag Cath, and Daniel), who have been exposed to the scene in different ways. Each character comes onstage, in turn, and speaks directly to the audience, telling them their story.

The Unnamed narrator and Nameless are typical of young gay men caught up in the chemsex scene. One of them will be able to indulge and then escape, but for the other, the chemsex scene leads to addiction, mental health problems, brushes with the police, and even the death of his boyfriend. The Unnamed narrator takes Nameless to Dean Street to get help, but it is unclear whether Nameless will admit he has a problem and accept the help offered. Once the chemsex scene has got its claws into you, it is hard to leave it behind and escape.

Fag Hag Cath could be a comedy character in the way she presents herself. But as she tells her story, you see how much she cares about her gay best friend, Steve, and how much his friendship means to her. As Steve gets more involved in the scene, taking more chems, his physical appearance deteriorates, he takes Cath and her friendship for granted, he says the most hurtful things about her, and he no longer goes round to see Cath’s toddler daughter, Grace. So the chemsex scene changes Steve completely, ruining his health, and robbing Cath of her best friend, and Grace of her favourite uncle.

My favourite character was Daniel, brilliantly played by Matthew Hodson. Daniel is in his 40s, a sexual health worker, laden down with the tools of his trade (condoms and lube), gearing up for another Pride Parade, and new to the chemsex scene. He is at his first chemsex party, but he is fully-dressed and much prefers a glass of red wine to the chems. His lack of enthusiasm for the chems may be because, as a sexual health worker working in a clinic, he will have witnessed only too often the damage wrecked by chems on young gay lives.

Given its subject matter and content, this piece could have been dark and depressing, but the writing and the playing are very skilful, there are many funny lines and comic moments dotted throughout the piece, and this keeps the audience engaged and entertained. As you listen to their individual stories, you get to know the characters, and you empathize with them, because they are flawed and imperfect like you. And through these individual stories, you develop an understanding and appreciation of the chemsex scene, of its many attractions and its dangerous pitfalls.

The Chemsex Monologues is a rare beast – a piece of new writing that informs, educates and entertains. An incredibly powerful, moving and funny piece of writing, superbly performed throughout. Highly recommended.

The Chemsex Monologues played at the King’s Head Theatre (Islington, London) from 17 to 21 May 2016.

The Chemsex Monologues has finished its current run but I am reliably informed it will be back!

For more information about The King's Head Theatre, follow the link:


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