With the steady ambience of student houseparty hookups and trashy playlists ringing from other rooms, two sort-of-strangers, Jake (Jarratt), a straight guy, and Cameron (Sharp), a gay guy, battle for the last empty bed to sleep in. But, as they stay up all night to discover, they are also mutually battling with their positions on the spectrum of masculinity where, in a man’s world, the trappings of stereotype go both ways.
Sensitively blending and contrasting both sides towards the revelation that these two characters aren’t so different, Sharp and Jarratt’s heartfelt and exciting W*nk Buddies is exactly the kind of young innovation Soho Upstairs should be proud to showcase.
The neat and uplifting stage design leaves one of the sweetest tastes (even if a student bedroom could never really be that tidy!) as we are inundated with costumes, props, set and lighting that sport at least fifty shades of pink. The visuals of the night’s memory being painted in Cameron’s flamboyant recollection does sway the narrative in his direction towards a slight imbalance of perspective, but what football-supporting, beer-drinking and nonchalant stereotype like Jake shouldn’t be prescribed an hour in a pink playground?
The script is brilliantly well-paced for a one-night narrative, driving and dancing both message and story forward through important issues of class, sexual politics and relationships surrounding the fragile choreographies of masculinity. A particularly well-crafted section in a gay bar that combats consent and queer tourism in gay bars entertains to a particularly sharp beat. W*nk Buddies masters the one-hour-wonder craft, but, although certainly not the aim of theatre, its charming characters do have legs for a potential sitcom environment.
Unfortunately, a couple of minor issues on the part of the sound technician (and perhaps Jarratt’s characteristically casual delivery) mean that some dialogue is lost under high volume club or house party music, but that may just be the sign of a native southerner having to adjust to a thick north-east accent.
Alicia Meehan’s choreography makes for a wonderfully energetic catalyst for two very differently carried male bodies coming together in freedom and new friendship. Both performers did the movement complete justice, continuing their convincing tough-love chemistry set to some very contagiously uplifting pop music choices.
A sometimes confusing context of present tense story-telling that runs through, along with a few forced asides strains a fourth wall that really could stay more erect (pun intended). Allowed to do so, Jake’s touching revelation when he notices his proud and flamboyant dancing was being watched by an audience, after being ever-self-conscious about how his sexuality is perceived, would be all the more moving and would, at the very least, make more sense.
W*nk Buddies is a pink plaster over the homophobia and toxicity enforced over gender performance. As we all live, fight and create under this patriarchal net, the show’s message, urging us to express and listen in equal indulgent measure, is a warm reminder to us all.
W*nk Buddies, played Soho Theatre Upstairs, until 26th February 2020 and is now touring the UK. For more information and tickets, see UK Theatre Web website.