Four Play (Above The Stag, Studio)

Rafe and Pete are the envy of their friends. Together seven (and a half) years, fit and attractive, successful, shopping at Sainsbury’s, seemingly happy.

Yet when Fout Play opens Rafe is explaining an arrangement they wish to put in place, just once, with a friend from Facebook, Michael. There’s a lot of humour in the scenario, but we are wrong-footed in Rafe’s apparent confidence and Pete’s reticence.

The revival of Four Play brings a genuinely funny piece of middle-class gay subturbia back to the stage. Written by Jake Brunger (who co-adapted The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole musical, seen in the West End last year), this pulls us into gleamy white kitchens of the two young couples as decisions are made, niceties are exchanged, and secrets are dragged out into the open.

Ashley Byam as Rafe, Keeran Blessie as Pete, Declan Spaine as Michael
Ashley Byam as Rafe, Keeran Blessie as Pete, Declan Spaine as Michael

I found the character of Andrew (who rates himself a ‘6’ to his boyfriend Michael’s ’10’) to be the most rounded, and he is very realistically played by Marc Mackinnon, who seems at ease with his relationship, glowing with pride at the man he’s with, then drawing out our sympathy in an inevitable dinner-party meltdown.

As the rather one-dimensional gym bunny Michael, Declan Spaine does well to tease out what nuance he can from the character. More interesting is Rafe (Ashley Byam), who has the deepest journey as the story progresses, getting involved in the arrangement purely to be “treated nice”.

The character who didn’t quite reach me was Pete, at first silent behind the Frosties bowl, but slowly revealing the mask behind the quiet and self-effacing exterior. Keeran Blessie does his best with an unsympathetic role, and plays it quite well, but of the four Pete is the one I didn’t quite believe in.

Marc Mackinnon as Andrew
Marc Mackinnon as Andrew

Carrie-Ann Stein’s set, any anonymous kitchen, is dressed with care: postcards, articles (“The 20 best gay bars”), scribbled notes stuck on the fridge door, even an Old Vic theatre ticket (Four Play made its debut there in 2015). There’s even a box from Amazon’s home delivery service.

The writing is nowhere near as frank as that in the current revival of Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean and suggestions of encounters remain just that: brief glimpses that serve to give us insight into the men we are watching. I found this to Four Play‘s benefit as a modern La Ronde, a comedy of errors, a kind of ‘foreplay’ if you like to a main act. It’s the reality of all relationships once they have passed the initial flush of new lust; for all lovers who may wonder about the grass on the other side of the fence.

This quartet could be any group of students ten years down the line, with their pretensions, frustrations and aspirations. Of course it is an LBGTQ+ story at heart, and Above The Stag remains a forerunner in this space, but it is also accessible to most audiences, and I found it just a very good play without any qualification needed.

Four Play continues at the new revamped Studio (very nicely done but a bit chilly) at Above The Stag in Vauxhall until 22 February, and is directed by Matthew Iliffe. Photo credits Gaz at PRG Studios.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Four Play.