From time to time a play comes along that ticks every box and gives a surprise treatment to a contemporary topic. Matt Parvin’s Gentlemen at the Arcola Theatre, does that and much more in a gripping drama whose storyline gathers in complexity as events unfold.

A masterclass in how to deliver stunningly captivating drama

Gentlemen was set to open in March 2020, days before lockdown. With the passage of time a new cast has been assembled, one of whom was in his first year at drama school three years ago. Huge credit here goes to Casting Director Nicholas Hockaday for assembling a trio of exceptionally skilled actors and Director Richard Speir for drawing on individual strengths to forge a chemistry between them that gives emotional depth to the production. As Speir’s says, “This cast might as well have been lab-grown for the show. With a wonderful blend of youth, experience and sharp wit, I couldn’t wish for better actors to bring Matt’s piece to life”.

The opening scenes have al the makings of a situation comedy. Greg (Charlie Beck) spent his school days deep in study. His reward for all that hard work and isolation was a place at one of England's top universities. Now he intends to milk the opportunity for all it’s worth in a hedonistic mix of societies, pubs, clubs and sex. After all, it is fresher’s term and he’s as fresh as they come. In contrast, his party-going popularity is the antithesis of everything that Kasper (Issam Al Ghussain) has experienced, not that he would want it. While Greg takes to the excesses of university life like a duck to water, Kaspar is the fish out of water. The pair are summoned to the room of the college welfare officer (Edward Judge), known as Timby, who needs to resolve a charge brought by a professor that Greg has plagiarised one of Kaspar’s essays. Greg, with his skilled use of words and personal logic, argues his way out of the accusation. But this is only the start of more serious allegations that eat into his Teflon veneer.

Kaspar remains silent during the mediation session; an intriguing device that makes us wonder why he is not participating and what’s going on in his head. Plenty, is the answer, but for now he is biding his time. If Greg is the focus of act one, dominating it with his endless bravado and antics, the balance of power shifts in act two with Kaspar revealing his mastery of the situation and ability to control the agenda. If only Greg had realised how Kaspar could turn and be so devastatingly menacing.

Caught in the middle is the well-meaning, all-things-to-all-people counsellor who has perfected the art of sitting on the fence to the point at which becomes painful. The bulk of the play is set in his office, designed with convincing attention to detail by Cecilia Trono. It’s spacious enough for some physical action but sufficiently compact to keep everyone in proximity with each other and heighten the intensity of their meetings. The long entrance to the stage is cleverly converted into a corridor that leads off from behind the door and although largely unseen has appropriate wall hangings. It’s subtly lit with light streaming in from a window and lamps giving tonal effects. In the surprise and contrasting opening to act two lighting designer Will Alder and sound designer Jamie Lu, whose outside protest noises work convincingly, have a chance for a little more excess in their creativity.

Judge captures the essence of the rather bumbling counsellor to perfection. His tone is cautious, verging on apologetic when he realise he’s said something that might, upset, offend or show lack of understanding. His delivery is often very soft, with some lines in the style of asides, under his breath as he goes out of his way to display his empathy. His softly-softly approach balances the forthright and vehemently outspoken delivery of Beck, who performs as more of a comedic master of the language, running rings round people. Ghussain falls between the two, cleverly setting up the initially compliant and submissive loner only later to take everyone by surprise as he weaves a web of sinister machinations. Delivery by all three is so powerful as to leave mouths aghast at how the manipulations of the situation unfold.

All of this stems form Parvin's finely crafted script and focussed use of language. With a Ph.D in English and years spent at Oxford and Cambridge Universities he’s clearly at home in the setting of his play and his observations of life there have clearly influenced this work. It’s a joy to relish the rich vocabulary, vivid imagery and precisely constructed sentences that elevate the dialogue and gives it heightened credibility in this academic setting, whilst appreciating the skill in creating dark comedy and an intriguing plot.

Class struggles, toxic cultures, the complexities of bisexual identity, how people become victims and why others are aggressors, how those roles can be reversed and the emotions that are generated are all laid bare in Gentlemen, often in the style of a detective investigation. Whatever the resolution of the specific situation between Greg and Caspar, the issues will remain long after, for them and for us all.

Gentlemen is a masterclass in how to deliver stunningly captivating drama.

NB: I am not in any way related to Charlie Beck!

Reviews by Richard Beck

Restaurace Malostranská Beseda

The Chemistry of Love

Muzeum alchymistů a mágů staré Prahy

Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act

A Studio Rubín

At Home with Will Shakespeare

Divadlo Inspirace

The Untold Fable of Fritz

Malostranska Beseda Galerie

UnErase Poetry - Stories from India

Malostranska Beseda Galerie

Twelfth Night


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Freshers’ term. Greg has taken to university life like a duck to water. Kasper is struggling to fit in.

Summoned to a mediation session with Kasper and the college welfare officer to discuss an accusation of plagiarism, Greg deftly argues his way out of trouble. But when the allegations evolve into something altogether more damaging, how long can Greg remain untouchable?

Gentlemen examines what happens when culture turns toxic, and how a fear of not fitting in risks everyone losing out.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £46.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets