Chemsex. Group sex on drugs. Chill-outs. On paper, the appeal is almost understandable. It’s a dark yet romanticised hedonistic fantasy, a chance to relinquish inhibitions, to writhe around with countless other bodies in highly stimulated erotic ecstasy.
Yet the reality, as 5 Guys Chillin’ portrays, is very different. In fact, there isn’t much sex at all. Five guys who meet online arrive at a chill-out, immediately strip off to their underwear and proceed to take a startling cocktail of drugs, whilst discussing their sex lives in horrifyingly unabashed fashion. When sex does arrive at the end, it’s a dirty and shameful act that nobody in the room wishes to be part of – at least, not of their own free will.
What kind of person would choose to attend these chill-outs? It’s a question that writer Peter Darney explores subtly, without being heavy-handed. Initially it’s all fun and games and flirting and laughter. But as the drugs hit, the five guys talk more and more openly with each other about their lives, their inner pain and turmoil slowly unfurling. One is married with a small child, forced to indulge his true sexuality in the dark underground scene. Another worries that he’s unable to connect with another man without the use of drugs. And two are in a polyamorous relationship, but the longing looks of jealousy across the room suggest they’re not as happy as they seem. For all their initial confidence and bravado, these are damaged individuals self-destructing, deep psychological issues manifesting in an insatiable addiction to sex, drugs and false intimacy. It’s telling, too, that none are given names – this is about anonymous sex, not a personal connection, even if the latter is ultimately what they truly crave.
Darney’s script is provocative, daring and unflinching. Perhaps most shocking of all the sexual tales is the whole group’s laissez-faire attitude towards contraception and STIs. Nearly all have had some contact, be it with HIV or a particularly gruesome account of Gonorrhea. The sheer irresponsibility of essentially collecting STIs makes for truly uncomfortable, harrowing viewing. The party host even comments that he refuses to provide condoms due to their expense, but he’s more than willing to offer a whole menu’s worth of drugs instead.
What makes the play so powerful, haunting and urgent, though, is that Darney’s script is verbatim, taken from actual interviews on popular gay app Grindr. There may be an element of embellishment for dramatic effect, but for the most part this stuff is actually happening right now. In just seventy minutes, he pools together a whole host of stories to create a brutally frank and terrifying vision of gay sex, played out by a brave and committed ensemble cast. Drugs have played a part in gay culture for years, but chemsex is perhaps its most alarming manifestation yet – a major crisis the gay community must face up to.
The overwhelming emotion of watching 5 Guys Chillin’, though, is a deep sadness. “It’s hard to have a monogamous relationship in London” says one guy, but whether that’s with another human or with drugs is difficult to tell.
Watch: 5 Guys Chillin' runs at the King's Head Theatre until 27th February.
Photos: Kasia Burke