Written by Shaun McKenna and Andrew Van Sickle, and directed by Bronagh Lagan, Exhibitionists is a bold piece of theatre, bringing together a myriad of themes. From juggling two separate couples at an exhibition, creating believable and intriguing highs and lows of these relationships, to discussions about homosexuality, societal norms, open relationships, addiction and more, Exhibitionists becomes quite the journey. However it does feel as though the show tries to cover too much and thus results in a rather messy ending.
The show starts off incredibly strong with the actual exhibition. Combining the slow reveal of how the couples are linked, the constant tension of the inevitable crossing of paths juxtaposed with the natural conversations allow us to understand the characters and their relationships, this is truly the show's biggest victory. The parallelism of the relationships and the metaphors of the art (video installations of different natural backgrounds) play off one another beautifully (video design by Matt Powell.)
The show proceeds to get better, relying heavily on farcical tropes, with each character rushing in and off the stage in search of one another, accompanied by different videos. The show slowly shifts away from the exhibition, to a motel where the farcical elements are only heightened with the mismatched couples, a rather... interesting motel owner and a number of edge of your seat moments. However towards the latter of the motel scenes and henceforth, the show begins to slowly unravel from the grasp that it had on the audience with rather lengthy conversations that revolve around the same point. In a slightly messy turn of events, that tries to slide by through dialling up the sexual nature of the script in attempts for quick laughter, the final location of the play (a mutual friend O'Dell's house) deflates the momentum.
Whilst there is still some powerful and hilarious moments here and I've never quite enjoyed a violent fight as much the one here impressively choreographed by Jess Tucker-Boyd, for the most part the show doesn't quite deliver what it initially promises. The five characters are finally sat together and a rather awkward attempt to converse and reconnect occurs, made even worse by the constant switching of character decisions leading to a rather confusing and chaotic conversation. Trying to tackle all of the themes carefully introduced throughout the show, plus the additional dramatic conflicts, lead to none of them being fully addressed. The segment is watchable only by Mal finally coming into his own and standing up to the disrespect (in a moment that brought on a rather unexpected round of audience applause.)
All five performers do a brilliant job of effortlessly bringing their characters to life. However the script unfortunately does let them down in the final scene, with each character acting so bizarrely out of character, that the audience loses any remaining sympathy for them. Particular mentions to Oystein Lode whose Sebastian had an undeniable stage presence, stealing every scene that he was in. Ashley D Gayle as Conor is a force to be reckoned with, and despite the chaotic plot, brought such enthusiasm and energy into the role, that swept the audience away. The talented and bewitching cast entices you from the get go. The stand out performance of the show was doubtlessly Jake Mitchell-Jones as Mal, who managed to charmingly become the emotional anchor the show. Bright eyed, sensitive, unabashedly British and sassy, Jones created a beautiful character arc, and the audiences were only ever rooting for his growth.
The staging is a simple white background with a number of entrances and exits that are in continual use with minimal props, mostly one piece of furniture. This allows the set to become almost larger as the entire space is being used (Gregor Donnelly). It is through the use of lighting design (Clancy Flynn) that we're able to pinpoint locations, particularly during a delightful split stage, with varied colour lighting.
Exhibitionists is a show that will doubtlessly amuse audiences in its emotional rollercoaster plot that isn't just a modern gay romantic comedy, intertwining necessary representation. However the show does lose the magic of this by trying a little hard at inserting extended serious conversations that neither make sense beyond a point, and loses the audience in the process. It attempts a quick fix of the conflicts, ultimately weakening the entire discussion around rather interesting topics. Be prepared to laugh at this uncensored and bare dive into modern relationships... and pants.
Exhibitionists runs at King's Head Theatre until 10th February. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Geraint Lewis