An Interview with the cast of 5 Guys Chillin’
We caught up with the cast of 5 Guys Chillin’ to hear more about their experience of working on the play. Peter Darney’s unflinching verbatim drama explores the world of chemsex, one of the most pertinent health issues in the gay community today.
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What was your first impression when you read 5 Guys Chillin’?
Tom R: I must admit when I first read the play I was really shocked! I knew the play was verbatim before I read it so that made the play even more moving for me. It took two or three reads to get over the shock definitely.
George B: Absolutely shocking, educational and urgent.
Gareth W: I was quite shocked, because it seems quite extreme. It goes to more extreme places than a fictional playwright might dare to venture. And I kept having to remind myself that this was real human experience.
George F: How uncompromising it was. What a world it was letting you in to. The honesty of it. And the nuances - the light touches, the affection, the tenderness in it.
David P: At the heart of the play is our search for connection, belonging and intimacy.
How much did you know about chemsex and the chill scene before being involved with 5 Guys?
Tom R: I didn’t know much which is why I think I found the play shocking. I thought I knew little bits about it in a very under-informed way, but doing all the research was such an eye-opener to the lifestyle and the dependency people develop for chemsex.
George B: Not much at all. I had received invites on apps when I was in New York, but stayed away. It always seemed very dark. I’m more of a romantic, so heavy drugs and random sex isn’t really my thing.
Gareth W: I have recently been supporting a friend of mine through a drug and sex addiction – so a fair amount.
George F: I knew very little.
David P: I knew very little about chemsex and the chill out scene.
What do you think the job of an actor is when performing verbatim theatre?
Tom R: I think it depends. How this play differs from others is that a) all the interviews are in text format as opposed to recordings and b) we have the job to put these characters in the situations of a party which does take the interviews out of context. What doesn’t change is staying very true to the language and being true to the text. The stories are real so you have to honour them with the depth of honesty that comes with that.
George B: To absolutely honour the words, rhythms and speech patterns of the originator while making sense of the text with my body, mind and voice. Also, since the language was originally spoken as sharing and reflection in an interview format, some liberties and creativity is required to justify the dramatic and active nature of Peter Darney’s content curation.
Gareth W: I know there are quite strict rules about it, but these vary depending on the school of thought, so the buck stops with your director. The characterisation is always to be based on clues that lie within the text – because you don’t meet the actual person. The text must be learned with faithful accuracy – even when there may be grammatical errors or inconsistencies because the tiniest variation of phrasing can often have a marked effect on the meaning.
George F: I'm not sure actually. It's my first time performing in anything verbatim and sometimes I do need to remind myself that these are words that have been spoken by someone else. And there's perhaps an added responsibility there. An extra verisimilitude to it.
David P: The same as any other play. Bring the character alive to enhance the story you're telling.
What advice would you give anyone looking to get involved in the chill scene, knowing what you know now?
Tom R: I think that’s a difficult one because it’s quite an easy thing to vilify. I guess I would tell them to watch Vice’s documentary Chemsex and talk to people who, not only do it, but who have done it. I guess not to be naïve about it.
George B: Don’t. Enjoy drugs, enjoy sex, but when the two meet so extremely, as they can and do on the chemsex scene, it’s kind of like a black hole that’s easy to get lost in. I actually just had to leave a sublet because the flat mate was deeply involved in the scene. I felt very unsafe being there.
Gareth W: I wouldn’t dream of doling out advice to anyone I’m afraid.
George F: It's really not for me to give personal advice - I guess I would just encourage them to read/see the play.
David P: Be careful.
What has been the most fun and the most challenging about playing your characters?
Tom R: The most fun is the sheer energy that R demands! I love the excitement, fun and love he has for others and I can’t lie I’ve had an absolute ball doing it. The most challenging thing is, as always with a short process, giving R the detail and specificity he deserves and he deserves a lot because he’s a right treat to play!
George B: Well, there are plural PJs. There’s the public mask he wears based around his straight, married relationship. There’s his shadow – the repressed sexual and romantic needs that are squashed by his choice to remain an active subscriber to his culture. Then there’s the true self that would exist if he was allowed to chase his dreams freely. And it’s a real treat to expose and flirt with these different aspects of his split-up identity.
Gareth W: As an actor, I love doing and saying things that I would never do as a person – especially narrating some of the more extreme sexual practices.
George F: The fun has been performing in such a lovely ensemble. Playing the scenes and experimenting together with the atmosphere and pace and relationships that the characters have.
David P: The company has been brilliant to work with.
Why is theatre important to you?
Tom R: What a question. I was going to give an attempt at being funny and say that theatre is important to me because it provides me with employment. It’s always very difficult to show a cheeky sarcastic smile through words! Theatre is obviously important to me in lots of ways, but as an actor, there is nothing better than simply losing yourself on stage every night. I might sound like a wet wipe but it really is addictive.
George B: Because it has the power to heal the world.
Gareth W: Theatre is like being at a live boxing match. The outcome is not pre-recorded and the physical/emotional energy and its impact can be felt vibrating through the room, and into the hearts of the audience.
George F: Its scope. Its inclusivity. Its unpredictable nature. Its potential. The life I have had from starting youth theatre at a young age and all the friendships and opportunities I have had from it.
David P: It’s a live storytelling format.
Best advice you’ve received as an actor?
Tom R: Be professional and grab every opportunity with both hands, but most importantly, just be a nice person and enjoy working with others.
George B: Pee when you can.
Gareth W: Learn your lines, turn up on time and don’t be a dick.
George F: Relax.
David P: You are enough.
What have you seen recently that you really enjoyed and why?
Tom R: Woyzeck at The Old Vic because I absolutely love that play!
George B: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? I enjoyed it because it was an absolute head fuck. Laughing hysterically the first half, crying through the second.
Gareth W: The Flick at the National. Most theatre for me is too fast – directors want you to pick up on cues all the time in order to shave ten minutes off the running time! But in The Flick there was time for the characters to think of what to say, and allow things to affect them before they replied. It felt like an emotional Newton’s Cradle rather than the zippy English theatre style that we have come to accept where people rattle off their lines in rapid succession and nobody listens and nobody has time to be affected.
George F: This Beautiful Future at the Yard. Was just everything I love about watching theatre.
David P: Hamlet at The Almeida and The Ferryman at the Royal Court, both enjoyed on the whole. And Disconnect at The Ugly Duck for something a bit different.
Favourite places to eat and drink on Upper Street?
Tom R: Five Guys…
George B: I’m an actor in the early stages of my career (#skint) so home prepared is best, and when the weather is nice, I like to sit and eat in the various parks and greens in the area.
Gareth W: The Worker’s Cafe
George F: I've only been to The Worker’s Cafe - one of the cast is a big fan of it and took us during rehearsals.
David P: Five Guys – of course!
Describe 5 Guys in 5 words.
Tom R: Important, fun, brutal, honest, druggie-drugs-drugs
George B: Sexy, informative, harrowing, dark, cathartic.
Gareth W: Culmination of generations of homophobia.
George F: Verbatim. Funny. Honest. Touching. Shorts.
David P: Funny, dark, drug-fuelled, explicit, human.
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