Many an article’s been written on how the gay scene appears dominated by drugs and sex. Once upon a time the dangers were alcoholism and being queer-bashed while cruising, but now some gay men prefer to attend ‘chillin’’ sessions in each others' homes where drugs and sex are always available, even if one often precludes the other. The corrupting hedonism of the gay ‘lifestyle’? A contributory factor in the continuing rise of sexually transmitted infections?
There’s an obvious forward momentum
Several books and plays have already been written about such chemsex parties, but Peter Darney’s award-winning 5 Guys Chillin’ arguably has the edge thanks to its ‘verbatim’ foundations. To be honest, others may have stronger or more overt narrative arcs, but there’s a real sense of authenticity in the dialogue here, and the experiences being retold, which gives an excellent cast something strong to work from. Admittedly, there’s some writerly stuff going on; in terms of age and ‘type’, this is a remarkably diverse selection of five gay men, which feels just a little too politically correct to be true.
Who are our five men? Hosts J (David Palmstrom) and M (George Fletcher), hot ‘Daddy’ B (Gareth Watkins) and his ‘Twink’ partner R (a smooth, tanned Tom Ratcliffe), and late arrival PJ (George Bull). Over the course of the evening, the men talk, take drugs and get intimate. We learn quite a lot about the chill-out party scene (or ‘group sex sessions’ if you’re really old-fashioned, or just old), but the lack of story makes it hard to hold onto details. Except, perhaps, when B admits that being fisted was the nearest he’s ‘come to a spiritual experience’.
That said, there’s still an obvious forward momentum, from the initial excitement of the men arriving, to the moment they take their first lines of coke, to the darkest hours when both the drugs and the stories get ever more serious. At one point you think matters are about to take a turn towards disaster, but the narrative is honest enough not to go for an easy Hollywood warning or bad turn. So even when one of their number is put out of action, the remaining four ‘keep buggering on’, either into maudlin disappointment or full-on sex. That’s drugs for you.
These five guys are genuinely well drawn—unsurprising, given they’re based on men Darney met on gay hookup app Grindr—but there’s a sense this is written with some disapproval of the drugs while wider issues—’no asians’ racism, for example—are only briefly touched on while others still (ageism, body fascism, internalised homophobia, etc) aren’t even mentioned at all. For all its fun and darkness, 5 Guys Chillin’ feels like a well-meaning ‘safer sex’ campaign.