Edinburgh Fringe, Gay Marriage, James Parris, John Fitzpatrick, Julie Bindel, Lewis Hart, Marriage, Pleasance Zoo, Simon Carroll-Jones, Theatre Review, This Much (or An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage)
John Fitzpatrick’s “This Much” begins with a young gay man stealing a packet of biscuits. This could be, I feel, the perfect metaphor for the seizing of gay marriage. I should explain that I didn’t think that marriage was ever worthwhile enough to number amongst the demands of gay activists. I agree with the contention of the feminist Julie Bindel: “It’s no coincidence that equal marriage was brought through by a Tory government. It’s a very conservative move. And of course it is there to say there are good gays and bad gays now. The good gays are the ones who get married…”
To move on from Bindel to Marx, in “This Much” the old tragic Victorian marriage is repeated for a second time as farce. It is all still here: the cohabiting; the wedding; the wedding dress and the cake; the prickly mother-in-law; the inevitable third person; the dishonesty and the domestic violence; and the anguish which had eventually found expression, for the tragic Victorians, in the writings of Ibsen and Chekhov. Yet this play ends with farcical aplomb and a man in a wedding dress announcing to his father’s funeral that he is a new kind of man. The question which “This Much” poses is whether gay men should really want to take ownership of the discredited tropes of a previous culture, or whether they should author new identities for themselves.
I cannot stress it enough that the play looks stunning. “This Much” could have probably filled the Traverse, and the decision to show it in the lost-cost, intimate venue of the Pleasance Zoo is extremely generous. Some in the audience might require more distance from the nudity. Tychy was seated in a rather unfortunate position in the front row; at one point the gentleman sitting next to me stiffened, but not in that sense, and I feared that the piercing command of “get your arse out of my face, you bugger!” was going to rip through the theatre. You also need to have patience with the constant sweeping of furniture and detritus around the stage. If you bear with it, however, then this disarray comes to vividly further the impression of being confined within the apartment of two lovers who are forever rolling from one noisy, messy argument to the next.
So Gar (Lewis Hart) has to choose between his established significant other, Anthony (Simon Carroll-Jones) and Albert (James Parris) a younger man who he has found on a dating app. Albert is usually always wriggling out of his clothes; Anthony is usually buttoning himself up in “smart-casual” wear. Anthony and Albert orbit Gar like the sun and the moon, never meeting one another aside from when they pass on the stairs outside Anthony’s home. Except that Gar is pathologically self-centred and that it is the Earth which orbits the sun. Gar finds that he and Albert are soon circling Anthony’s household, pining for the light but unable to fully withstand the heat of its alien world and its bourgeois commitments.
Perhaps a little distance from this play would not only remove the dazzle from its glaring nakedness, but also allow us to discern faults in the story. Fitzpatrick no doubt could have been more adventurous with the character of Albert, who mostly comes across as a bad gay, to use Bindel’s approving terminology, because he steals biscuits. You have to reflect upon what the ghostly Albert stands for because he is not realistic enough to exist independent of a function.
But one of the reasons why this play gets away with the nudity is because it has earned the right to wave a cock in our faces. “This Much” is solemn at the right moments, its dialogue is immensely clever, and the story is always up to something new. Gar’s appearance at his father’s funeral and a strange unearthly dance between Gar and Anthony serve to lighten the increasingly heavy story. There is henceforth a sense of the play balancing itself out and locating a fine equilibrium between the playful and the dark, the dizzy and the sober. It is ultimately richly provocative, placing a question mark over gay marriage, though not without sympathy and considerable thoughtfulness.