PARTY SCENE: Chemsex, Community and Crisis – Project Arts Centre – Review
22 June – 02 July 2022
As you enter the theatre, the four performers are already visible at the back of the stage, limbering up. There is a clothes rail in clear sight, for the variety of costume changes the performers will make. The play is presented with seating on three sides, bringing the audience into the performance. The theatre is in near darkness other than for strip lighting running along the floor of the auditorium and up the walls. At the start of the piece, a scantily clad young man comes to the centre of the stage with a hula hoop. With a wry grin, he talks directly to the audience, discussing his idea of fun while showing his skills with the hula hoop!
This is a new work by THISISPOPBABY, which aims to explore “the underbelly of queer culture”. It was created by both Philip Connaughton and Phillip McMahon and is billed as dance theatre. Connaughton has a long history as a choreographer and created works such as Tardigrade (winner of Best Design in the Tiger Dublin Fringe Awards in 2014) and Assisted Solo (2018). McMahon is the joint artistic director of THISISPOPBABY.
The production is primarily a dance piece, but there are short sections of text that give you insights into the lives of those who indulge in chemsex. Some are delivered as recorded mobile phone messages. We hear frustrated calls from employers as the individual is late for work or worried calls from friends wondering where they are late at night. Other pieces of text are delivered by the performers on stage. We hear their attitude toward sex and drugs, and also what their family members think of their actions. Others tell of how organised their drug-taking is, with reminders set on their phone for when the next pill is to be taken.
The lighting design by Sarah Jane Shiels & Suzie Cummins is pivotal to the mood of the piece. They’ve recreated the feel of a nightclub, with near darkness other than for strong spotlights in vivid blues and yellows. It gives the piece a sinister feel when combined with the loud dance beats and heavy percussion.
The Chemsex scene is definitely an interesting topic and worth being explored on stage. The variety of drugs and their effects are unknown to many outside this world. This production gives you a brief insight into the scene through the short segments of text but the main element is the dance. We see their furious movement in the clubs and their bodies intertwined later on in the evening. There are moments illustrating the callous nature of some of those involved. One particularly haunting scene has a young man wondering if anything happened last night when he was high and if there is anything he should be worried about. It’s a piece that touches on this fascinating and dangerous subject.
Created by Philip Connaughton & Phillip McMahon
Performers – Ryan O’Neill, Matthew Morris, Liam Bixby, Anderson de Souza
Set & Costume Design – Ellen Kirk
Lighting Design – Sarah Jane Shiels & Suzie Cummins
Sound Design – Frank Sweeney
Produced by Carla Rogers