5 Guys Chillin’, Kings Head Theatre: ‘Hilarious to heartbreaking in seconds’

Elliot Hadley, Adi Chugh and Cesare Scarpone in 5 Guys Chillin'

Elliot Hadley, Adi Chugh and Cesare Scarpone in 5 Guys Chillin' - Credit: Archant

Peter Darney’s award winning play gives rare insight into the world of chemsex parties through the true stories of those who have experienced it

There’s a coffee table covered in drugs in the middle of the stage. Crammed into the small theatre space, the audience is invited to a “chill out”, the kind of party most will have likely never experienced.

We meet J watching The X Factor and snorting a few casual lines on the sofa with his friend M (Cesare Scarpone). J has been on Grindr and invited three more guys: R and B (Elliot Hadley and Rick de Lisle), a couple who arrive fresh from another “chill”, and PJ (Adi Chugh), reserved and relatively inexperienced.

With Stuart Birmingham, who usually plays J, too unwell to perform, his role was taken over by writer and director of this verbatim play, Peter Darney, who was remarkable despite having only discovered he’d have to do it a few hours earlier.

As more drugs are taken and partners swapped, stories emerge about the lives of these men. Hadley’s superbly multi-faceted R isn’t as carefree as he wants you to think and his relationship with brooding B has a lot more to it than would originally seem. M is more serious and appears to be the only one with limits, limits that gradually disappear over the course of the party. J struggles to come to terms with the way he contracted HIV and PJ fights against the guilt instilled in him by a traditional upbringing.

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They speak candidly of STDs, unprotected sex and “slamming Tina” (injecting crystal meth) in a way that goes from hilarious to heartbreaking in a matter of seconds.

Through every monologue and emotive account of their previous chills, I had to keep reminding myself that this is real. Each story told by the cast was told to Darney by someone who had experienced it.

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I’ve been thinking about this play a lot in the days since. It keeps entering my head when I least expect it and I’m reminded that it’s happening right now, possibly within a mile radius from me.

Yes, 5 Guys Chillin’ is about sex and drugs, but ultimately it’s about vulnerability, pleasure, anguish, responsibility and the need to belong – things that everyone can understand.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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