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97

This afternoon I have screeched up outside Paradise in Augustine’s and pounced upon Jake Alexander Williams’ and Anya Dye’s new play “Five Drinks.” To be a Fringe reviewer, you need to write at a fair lick if you are ever going to get anywhere. Being four shows in and still struggling to acquire the correct pace, I feel that “Five Drinks” is the very last thing that I need: a play which I can’t make up my mind about. The play is stylistically accomplished but morally hideous. The hero Dylan Moon (Luke Charlton) is wholly unlikeable but his story is a heap of fun. As I enjoyed this play, and I want to end with a qualified recommendation, I will begin with Dylan.

If the young student Dylan has come out as gay, this is only the beginning of his story and there is no glimmer of an ending in sight. “Five Drinks” observes Dylan’s early, unconfident date with another man (Kyle Harrison Pope), and the inconclusive anguish which follows. Dylan does not just go out and have sex with other men. Instead, his sexuality has come to be his whole identity and this identity has been draped over him, and wrapped all around him, with the monstrous stifling weight of a Camila Batmanghelidjh outfit. Indeed, homosexuality is far more of an identity than a sexuality for Dylan, and the lad remains celibate and squeamish about sex. He can only equate his privacy with dishonesty; he feels guilty that his nonplussed friends are not entirely informed about his every emotional whim.

Dylan is, in short, a narcissist and a hysteric. His life is a huge storm of drama, but he is essentially a teacup. How can we ever start the revolution when people like this are constantly facing in the wrong direction, and fussing over the intricate minutiae of their personal lives? Yet we are not accorded the necessary distance from this character with which to condemn him and the claustrophobia of his identity-politics. “Five Drinks” at times appears to be so solemn that it could be being performed by the Leeds University LGBT society rather than its dram soc. I had the sense that I was considerably ahead of the production in locating its hero’s villainy, and I only hope that they are just being very subtle.

On the plus side, however, Charlton is endlessly watchable as Dylan. His nonstop shrugging and head flicking soon seems as infectious as a jazz bassline. “Five Drinks” is always splashing along in some wonderfully merry and enjoyable dialogue, and this is matched by the excellent physical direction of the play. It is always observationally very alert and the scenes in the nightclub are particularly well done. And so in the end I am obliged to raise a glass to Dylan, a sixth drink to toast him with.

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