The Chemsex Monologues

Chemsex kinda does what it says on the tin, mixes chemicals and sex. The drugs used can include mephedrone, crystal meth, cocaine and ketamine. Naturally, a whole load of stereotypes get flung at the people and groups who engage in these activities which is why The Chemsex Monologues are so important because they reveal the all too human side behind the prejudiced slurs and sensationalised stories. But before you read my review go book your tickets, it’s on tonight until Saturday at 9.45pm at the King’s Head Theatre in London.

Directed by Luke Davies, written by Patrick Cash and designed by Richard Desmond this was an intense hour-and-a-bit. Through a series of monologues we were introduced to various characters: the narrator, played by Richard Watkins, who falls for that hot boy on the scene with the great abs and the endless energy. Then Denholm Spurr brings that boy to life as Nameless, who gets to live his dream and meet a porn star. Meanwhile, Charly Flyte plays Cath, the ever faithful fag hag who’s getting a little fed up of her so-called fag. And Daniel, the wonderfully upbeat sexual health worker who loves handing out condoms and lube at saunas and brings red wine to a chemsex party rather than chems. All the cast were fantastic, they found the nuances of character and the expressive range to ensure each monologue was delivered as the multi-layered story it was written as. It wasn’t just someone stood up and talking for fifteen minutes instead we were drawn into worlds of sweaty bodies, M&S ready meals and chemically fuelled orgies. That all the monologues wove together to tell a larger, interlinked story and showed the same characters from different angles proved very satisfying but I shan’t spoil anything (but what I will say is that I’m very glad how things turned out with Swallows).

What also worked so well in this production as in Queers (also produced by Dragonflies Theatre), was that thread of emotion that meant the stories told were more than just anecdotes but had real heart. That Cath was so much more than a fag hag but also a loyal friend, a hardworking single mum and an amazing source of positivity. That Nameless was more than the boy in short shorts (and nothing else) but had so much love to give and poetry to share. That both the narrator and Daniel could see the cracks in the facade of this seemingly glamorous world and still be there to offer a hand. I’d also like to add that I sincerely hope Matthew Hodson is as nice in person as the characters he plays are – Daniel was a legend as was the character Hodson played in Queers (no pressure Matthew). However, the niceness of these characters just exacerbates the tragedy that runs throughout the play. There’s a moment when Daniel’s wondering to himself why so many people do mix chems and sex. He thinks back to a GCSE classics class and remembers that the word ecstasy comes from the Greek extasis: a displacement or removal from the proper place. “Why do so many gay men want to be outside themselves?” he wonders and I thought that was a very good question. Is it just for fun or is it that this so-called real world can be so endlessly hostile and unwelcoming, so shaming of minorities yet so quick to tokenise and ridicule them whilst remaining indifferent to their suffering. If this is one of the messages woven into The Chemsex Monologues then it’s a wake up call for so many of us to stop being so indifferent and unfriendly because people like Nameless, Daniel, Cath and whatever-the-narrator’s-actually-called are priceless and should be made to feel at home. Anyways, enough of that, go book your ticket.

ChemSexMs
Denholm Spurr as Nameless in The Chemsex Monologues

 

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Coca-Cola Does Adverts

You’d think Coca-Cola wouldn’t need to bother with adverts. Their cans and bottles of fizzy, sugar-water are already sold all over the world and being drunk in the millions, why bother with all the billboards and posters when there’s not much in the way of competition? But that’s not enough for a global, conglomerated modern-day empire, if Coca-Cola don’t continue to beam their brand at us we might briefly forget about them and buy Pepsi instead, and that would just be terrible. So here are some of the high(low)lights of their efforts to indoctrinate us to Choose Choice, Open Happiness and Drink Coca-Cola.

In Coca-Cola’s own words: ” ‘Brotherly Love’ captures the unique relationship between brothers, a universal story of love and conflict. Ultimately the younger brother finds himself without his Coca-Cola. The older brother comes to his rescue and they enjoy a special moment together.” I hadn’t realised that Coke did universal stories of love and conflict but really I’d say this is a story about bullying – the elder brother bullies his younger brother at every possible opportunity – stamping on his feet, pushing his cap down and stealing the umbrella. However, if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s other people bullying his younger brother when he could be. Hence, he scares them off and then makes his little brother spill his Coke down his t-shirt. So, just to clarify, this advert has nothing to do with ‘brotherly love’ but is actually about condoning bullying and imaginative ways to addict the next generation to fizzy, sugar-water.

This has to be my favourite. Stuck as we are in the gruelling reality of late capitalism, where recessions run longer and deeper, inequality rises and as it does a whole host of prejudices we thought were gone come back. Add to this the effects rampant consumerism has on the environment and we’ve got climate change, resource depletion and land grabs. Yet despite all this Coca-Cola ploughs on in selling us its sugar-water. And here’s a handy advert to remind us which ones there are (in case we’d forgotten): the original, the diet-one, the no-calories-one which is the diet-one rebranded for men (it’s black after all and has a number in the name) and the supposedly-natural-one (aka, the oxymoron-one). But it’s the message at the end “CHOOSE CHOICE” in big, bold letters which does it for me. I mean it’s bad enough that consumer capitalism resultsĀ  in so many human and environmental rights abuses but now freedom has been narrowed down to selecting one of four fizzy, sugar-water drinks. Did Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and Ghandi really strive so hard just for us to have access to a range of soft drinks? But, worse than that, the phrase “choose choice” reveals that choice is also up for grabs, as if one day soon we won’t be able to choose at all – maybe the day when Coca-Cola instead of water is coming out of our taps whether we like it or not.

And last but by no means least it’s the Coca-Cola does Christmas advert. Coke basically invented the Santa we know and love – they changed the colour of Saint Nicholas’ outfit from green to red, they added some weight to him and put a bottle of delicious, sparkling, black gloop in his hands. And kids all over the world love him and believe in him, worshipping him almost like a deity – a false idol if ever there was one. I hate to say it but Coca Cola really are having the last laugh. Ho, ho, ho! Unless, of course, we stop buying their tasty and addictive fizzy, sugar-water.

Amy

Every moment of happiness that the documentary Amy portrayed was foreshadowed by the knowledge of her sad and premature death. We watched as a young women who loves singing and writing poetry was transformed into a 21st icon, a global superstar and a figure of hate. Learning of Amy Winehouse’s alcoholism, bulimia and drug addiction I felt ashamed for having judged her in the past – I remember reading about the gigs she cancelled and I remember thinking that she had let her fans down and been selfish. I had no idea of the context. As I watched I also felt complicit in the diabolical system that contributed so heavily to her death. And as the film shows it all began with her ability to sing.

A short clip of Winehouse as a teenager singing Happy Birthday to a friend begins the film and immediately demonstrates her talent. She states on numerous occasions how much she loved singing. Of course, her love of music was what made her and broke her because a voice like Winehouse’s is the perfect voice for commodification. Without ever stating it the film shows what happens to a successful artist in a consumer capitalist society. It began by assigning Winehouse’s voice a price tag. Be it as recorded songs on a CD or as a ticketed performance these were all ways people could make money from her voice. As she became more successful so her voice became worth even more – her album Back To Black sold millions of copies worldwide. Her increased popularity tied in perfectly with the underlying logic of capitalism, namely growth – keep exploiting a resource for profit until it’s depleted.

So Winehouse’s art was continually exploited. The film shows bleak clips of various people close to her using her celebrity status and wealth for their benefit. Her father, ex-husband, managers and production companies (Universal Music Group included) are all shown pushing her to perform more and produce more music. Her rise in monetary value coincided with her increased addiction to drugs and alcohol yet so many of the people around her did not stop to ask too many questions – why would they when they were getting so rich? Meanwhile, the press and her fans treated her as an idol. They garnered her with almost mythic status and placed her on a pedestal that she never deserved to be on. Of course, the paparazzi were all to happy to wrench her down from this plinth when her addictions and suffering meant she could no longer perform as a commodified celebrity is expected to. One moment that sticks out from the film is when she’s onstage at Belgrade and as she stumbles and falls the band look on and laugh. Meanwhile, the audience cheer her and then, when she doesn’t sing, boos her. “Sing or give me my money back” chants some of the crowd.

Commodity, idol, hate-figure, voice, character in a documentary – it seems one of the things Amy Winehouse was rarely treated as was a human.

I contributed to this process. I bought her album Back To Black, thereby adding another figure to her record sales, further assuring her success. I did not look to the woman behind the music – a woman suffering from depression, bulimia, substance abuse and abusive relationships – I heard her only as a beautiful voice. This process continues today. Her death will have significantly boosted her sales figures and the film Amy will make Universal Music Group an awful lot of money. As the credits rolled I saw that even Winehouse’s teenage rendition of Happy Birthday caught on a video camera by her friend is owned by a record label – even that brief song has been commodified. Under capitalism nothing escapes the profit motive and all is governed by a certain form of addiction – the addiction to money.

Amy the film is not the final say – it’s a carefully edited version of events that tries to tell one particular story. It paints her ex-husband and father as simple villains and never really tries to understand their behaviour. It also turns Amy Winehouse’s life into a slick narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end – her life is contextualised by her music and her tragic death. Of course, the one person who had no say in this process was Amy Winehouse – once again she is robbed of a voice and presented as a certain sort of person – the sort of person whose ‘story’ will attract lots of people to cinemas. This is the numbers game of consumer capitalism – a game that can cause climate change, facilitate resource wars, initiate global recessions and, most certainly, relentlessly capitalise on a vulnerable but talented young woman far beyond her death.

This system will change but for now I’ll leave you with one of Amy Winehouse’s brilliant songs: