Self identity, depression, sexual awakenings and The Smiths are all topics central to writer/director Ben SantaMaria’s incredibly touching and heartfelt play about growing up gay in the 1980’s.
A one man show which is honest, heartfelt and bittersweet
It’s 1984 and our protagonist is struggling to cope. He’s different from his peers and he knows it. He doesn’t like girls in the way you’re supposed to, and he wants to kiss the boys more than he wants to play football with them. Over the course of the last few years of school he has to navigate the complex process of coming of age, all whilst struggling to be himself in a society that’s determined not to accept him.
One of the things that really struck me about this play was how honest it felt. All the experiences we witness our beleaguered protagonist suffer through feel real and viscerally endured. SantaMaria’s script brings a conversational tone to our narrator's interactions with the audience, which makes the show feel almost like a confessional act between the protagonist and us, entrusting us with his secret loves and fears. This creates a sense of deep emotional empathy that roots us in his struggle, and we feel his pain at the slings and arrows he has to endure just for being himself. This is aided by an able performance from actor Ryan Price, who nails the unsure nervousness and vulnerability that is being a teenager, and whose performance hits just the right note of naturalism that made the show feel almost autobiographical.
There are definitely seeds of greatness buried within the script, but the show can never quite get them to fully flourish. There is a persistent dreary, melancholic tone to the whole show, which can get repetitive and dull. There needs to be a greater range of emotional experiences to give variety. Some real high points would mean the low ones stung more because of the contrast. As it was, at times the show felt very samey. Similarly for audience members like myself, who’ve seen many stories about coming out as gay, this show won’t add anything new to the genre. The 1980’s setting is little more than window dressing and the script isn’t able to draw out any comment on the social conditions in Britain at that time that make the oppression and alienation our character suffers possible.
This is not to say the show still isn’t worthwhile or even enjoyable. Rather it is to say that it struggles to distinguish itself from other works in the genre. It fails to really step out of the box and shine as a truly great piece of work by itself. In the end, Really Want to Hurt Me is a one man show which is honest, heartfelt and bittersweet and curious festival goers should give it a chance.