I unfortunately missed Damien Tracey’s Warde Street, though the excellent reviews he gathered certainly forced me to take notice. Faster, Higher, Stronger, Straighter is Tracey’s tenth play and boasts some of the most gay-sensitive and thought provoking dialogue in theatre.
Faster, Higher, Stronger, Straighter focuses on two separate stories of gay men, Darragh (Chris Aylmer) and Pahval (Naeem Hayat) and their respective partners, as they deal with the lead up to their performances in the opening ceremonies of both the 2012 London Olympics and this year’s Winter Olympics in Russia. Whilst most people would undoubtedly be worrying about nerves getting the better of them, forgetting some vital moves or just having to perform in front of millions of people, this pair has much more to contend with.
Pahval’s story is fraught with high tension over having to perform in a country that has recently come under huge criticism for enacting an anti-gay propaganda law. His boyfriend Yakhov (Harry Jardine) has a Russian extremist as a father (Carsten Hayes), which is understandably creating friction between the two. This scenario magnifies how bad events are in Russia for an audience who perhaps don’t fully understand it, whilst at the same time it will be close to the heart of many gay men and women who have come out to their parents, and it didn’t go well (to put it mildly).
Darragh’s story is again, though probably more apparently, about a turbulent father/son relationship. This is a contrasting side to Russia where HOPE intends to rule supreme. Father, John (Chris McAlphy) is visiting from Ireland and his son, though out and mildly proud, is anxious about him meeting his somewhat more extravagant boyfriend, Russell (Charlie Allen). The couple’s relationship is similarly fragmented but the situation feels far less heart-attack-inducing and heartbreaking than Yahkov and Pahval’s, though act two does have its surprises.
This show has a great team working on it with Whitney Mosery directing (previously assisting on the Almeida’s American Psycho) and Tracey acting as associate producer. The set is simple and straightforward with a living room for both couple’s stories. What is most striking for me here is how unbelievably realistic the script is, informative and, dare I say it, a little bit ground-breaking? Tracey hasn’t given us stereotypical gay characters, apart from Russell , but even he is shown to have great depth and has some of the best lines in the entire piece.
The acting is superb, with particular reference to Chris McAlphy’s John and Chris Aylmer’s Darragh, finally discussing the former’s initial struggle with his son’s sexuality. What they do here is exciting and realistic; Allen’s ability to break down and cry on demand is also quite overwhelming to watch. As powerful as Yahkov and Pahval’s story is, the empathy here will be directed towards Darragh and his father’s eventual confrontation of the past, more than likely because the writing fully comes alive through Tracey’s own experiences.
Towards the end of the piece, Russell says: “if somehow we were able to erase that association… of sex… maybe the focus would be on who we love and not what we do in bed”. This piece reminds me so much of my university dissertation’s final chapter, in which I concluded that in order for sexuality not to be an issue, it is essential to erase any mention of what makes heterosexuality and homosexuality etc. different. If anything, this play is an important piece of teaching material and I really couldn’t have written or expressed myself any better than Tracey has here.
Faster, Higher, Stronger, Straighter is playing at the Dominion Studio until 26 January. For more information and tickets, see the website.