I am hurrying over the spine of Edinburgh to Assembly Hall on the Mound. Planet Tattoo is already blaring above the skyline; hundreds of stormtroopers are queuing on the Royal Mile to shuffle into this awaiting Death Star. Everybody ducks as the Millennium Falcon shoots overhead at nine o clock. At Assembly Hall, that melodramatic statue of John Knox is now preaching to the backs of a huge crowd who are straining to get to the bar. Outside there are massive queues for tonight’s shows and each of them are waiting for authorisation to snake through the melee in the courtyard. The staff know that these queues must be kept scrupulously separate. If two got tangled up they would have to march everybody outside and make them queue again.
“Confessions of a Grindr Addict” has been created by the Australian writer and performer Gavin Roach. But let us deal with Grindr first. For the entirety of the show I had assumed that this was an imaginary dating app, something with a mild whiff of dystopia which had been devised to satirise how the internet has transformed human relationships. Yet it turns out that Grindr is as real as John Knox, or at least his statue. At one point in this show, Roach’s character Felix scoffs about how they were using MSN in Neanderthal times. As I am still using MSN, this conveys the centuries between myself and the world of Grindr.
You download Grindr on your I-phone (I don’t have an I-phone either) and it can provide you with real time information about the gay men in your neighbourhood who are up for casual sex. Half of this show is a tribute to what a fabulous invention Grindr is. Felix sings like a cricket about the glories of Grindr – it is a passport to a wacky world in which obliging strange men are essentially on tap.
One chap looks like he has a puppy in his pants, but this is okay as Felix has a bucket arse. Whether or not Felix’s jokes are funny, the way in which he tells them, with such relish and exuberance, makes them hilarious. Over the course of the show he appears to glug down an entire bottle of white wine, and like a kid watching a magician, I want to believe that it is real. Roach is so happy with this jolly show that he can perform it whilst pissed.
The other half of this show, however, chronicles how Felix’s dependence upon Grindr has left him socially unconfident. When preparing for a date, he is spooked by the prospect of actually talking to a real lover. If you met somebody in real life who was complaining so earnestly about such trivia, you would have to interrupt them to point out that they were hardly being carpet-bombed in Syria. Yet Felix has some good melancholy stories up his sleeves. After rushing to the apartment of a gigolo friend from Gindr, they had ended up only talking. In the flesh, the gigolo had remained as remote as if he was on screen.
Perhaps this play is just a bit of a laugh. Roach is evidently as comfortable with Grindr as he is with groaning over its shortcomings. A more detached writer could have created something more powerful by observing how the internet has genuinely transformed sexual interactions. Felix remains nostalgic for a world in which boys met in real cafes and drank milkshakes together and melted whenever they found each other’s hands under the table. He deplores how Grindr has corrupted this old world innocence. Yet in truth there used to be a world in which lonely men met for dangerous, anonymous sex in public toilets, and apps such as Grindr have made such joyless experiences readily available to a great many more people. There is comedy to these things but it is hardly funny.