A bare bum is on stage in less than ten seconds into Matthew Compling’s play, Abominations. Not an inappropriate start for an edgy-sounding production that whisks up dark comedy, Christian homophobia and homosexuality – and a promising one too. But, unfortunately, a bum is pretty much as daring as it gets. Abominations is hardly the controversial comedy promised, but it’s a comedy that deals with heavy matters endearingly, relatably and honestly. A sweet treat.
Jeff (Alexander Hulme) – poor Jeff – is married and gay. Or, at least, wrestling with his sexual identity. And Jeff does love wrestling: visiting the gym, sniffing the air, being close to the muscles and scent of other men. Leaving his phone number on a gym toilet door intensifies his confusion when young Malcolm (Chrispher Burr) nervously rings it, wanting something that he’s too scared to name, and then agreeing that Jeff can come round to his and “wrestle”.
Throw in Malcom’s homophobic boss-cum-best-friend Tony (Gary Heron) – who of course, inevitably, painfully, but wonderfully, is also Jeff’s dad – and Jeff’s nagging, sour wife Sharon (Natalie Harper), and you’ve got family trouble, biblical questioning, as well as a lot of stage black-outs when things get sexy. It really is funny, and that might be one of the best things about it, in a way that feels like you’re laughing along with your friends: Abominations is not afraid to be silly and never dares to be superior.
The stage at the Etcetera Theatre may be almost bare and, where it isn’t empty, doesn’t exactly match up to West End thrills. But the acting takes hold of your imagination without help: from Heron’s Tony (who, from the programme, I was worried was going to be a 2D homophobic villain, but turned out to be bumbling and so very human despite the bigotry) to Burr’s confused, loving Malcolm, who is nerdy, naive and no doubt the prey of some playground bully. Hulme as Jeff does as a lead character should, stitching the play together with brilliant subtlety and believability. Harper has one of the hardest parts with Sharon, who is granted less in the script and comes out of it as more of a caricature that doesn’t always make sense, but she warms to the part well.
All four characters’ push-and-pull fights, worries, hopes and stupid and brilliant moments are wonderfully, joyfully engaging. At times sad, at others a little melodramatic, but always funny, Abominations is unfailingly charming and endearing, telling stories we all sadly know, through layered characters who seem just as real and familiar as the weighty issues they are dealing with.
Abominations is playing at Etcetera Theatre until 7 May. For more information and tickets, see the Etcetera Theatre website. Photo: Robert Piwko