“Ping” – a text message is projected onto the white canvas that lights up the dark auditorium. “Ping” – another one. They are enquiring about Andrew. Is he alright? The texter seems to really care about the young man who enters the stage with shaking hands and an insecure look in his eyes. Andrew (Andrew Houghton) takes note of the concerned text messages that pop up more frequently now. A singular chair and a box of Jenga will be his companions for the remainder of his one-man show Naughty.
Although it is just Houghton by himself who leads us through the story by sharing memories, recollections of intimate scenes, and his side of what has transpired, it almost feels like there is more than one character present on stage. As present as himself are his boyfriend Jake, his college friends, and his acting teacher Kevin who play pivotal roles in the story that we are about to hear.
Andrew is an ordinary college student. Bullied for being gay, he takes up the courage to stand his ground and come out to his peers. Having wished upon a star that his life as a gay man will be as beautiful as he has always imagined, he soon after meets his boyfriend-to-be Jake. Jake is the opposite of Andrew. Loud, opinionated, and self-assured he raises concern among Andrew’s friends, and rightfully so. Not long after, Andrew finds out that Jake has had unprotected sex with another man. Helpless, he seeks advice from his acting teacher Kevin. Feeling all too comfortable in his protector role, Kevin’s advice ranges from “break up with him” to “suck someone else’s d**k” and “j**k off in your auntie’s bathroom”, things you would never want to hear from the teacher you confide in. And so, it is not surprising that Andrew’s mental state takes a toll and things take a turn for the worse.
Although a one-man show, Naughty has all the elements of a distressing two-hander. Incarnating the towering presence of Kevin, the glowing text messages that pop up behind Houghton create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Never knowing what will be projected onto the canvas, and what illicit things the dark male voice played over the loudspeaker will say, I follow Andrew’s story with full attention. Whilst it starts out as a funny show about a young man’s experience of what it is to be gay in today’s world, his recollections become sombre and dark as the plot unfolds. Houghton’s storytelling draws me in from the beginning and the well-timed actions that he performs at specific moments in the play give it so much meaning. Houghton’s interactions with creepy voiceover Kevin and his sublime ability to multi-roll and constantly switch between his boyfriend, his mother, his best friend, and many more is a joy to experience.
Naughty is a dark and distressing semi-autobiographical story that questions what role figures of authority should play in the lives of young people and sheds light on why sexual predators often face no repercussions for their actions. However, as painful as Andrew’s story is, his performance of Naughty leaves us with a reassuring sense of closure for him.