★★★by Ifan Llewelyn
Through a rather unassuming doorway near Old Street station sits The Courtyard Theatre. You would be forgiven for just walk right past it without so much as glancing in. Down the dimly lit stairs, along a wide white corridor decorated in the building’s history, and up the other side, you happen across the vast, dark performance space that is to be our stage for the evening. Set with a rundown couch, a threadbare rug and a few scattered chairs, planted in the middle is a long-haired nomad who’s busying himself in consuming furious white powders, jittering and quivering as they take effect. The house lights dim, the dance music starts tripping and celestial beings infiltrate our key players’ drug taking. It is clear from the outset that Among Angels a Chemsex play that is concerned with far more than the pitfall of the party and play scene.
We soon find that our main player Chris (Stephen Papaioannou) is one who has dabbled in the chemsex scene but is soon to be tipping over the edge into oblivion. The schoolteacher is caught up in accusations of sexual assault and his life is sent into free fall, landing him at the mercy of cum pig Adam (Tommy Papaioannou) and his controlling Satanist daddy Pete (Christopher Hardcastle). Their evening of ingesting narcotics is mysteriously interrupted by a stranger who seems to know our cast of players intimately, but Chris does not heed his warnings. As the torn-up teacher who gives in to the scene’s earthly delights, Stephen truly holds nothing back in his portrayal, investing completely in the role, though not quite knowing where to take it as the play runs its course. A stand out performance is given by the deliciously devilish Hardcastle that compellingly portrays our villain with a perverse sense of pantomime.
Stylistically the piece is a patchwork quilt of stark exposition and musings, with a malleable sense of temporality that jolts from one scene to the next. This new work by Timothy Graves is, putting it lightly, ambitious in its scale, parlaying out of not only the actual chemsex scenes but the living world altogether. His influences are clear, being almost a reactionary piece to Angels in America and The Inheritance that have captivated audiences by exploring similar subjects through similar means. Throw in the Bible, a little Buddhism, The Tempest, Satanism and Kylie Minogue and you’re left with something that unavoidably feels over-fed. There are some interesting conversations had, particularly in exploring the sex-crazed opioid-dependant perspective of homonormative gays, but they drown in the bewildering mix of crucifixions and masques de carnival.
There is a sense that Among Angels had a clear vision in what it wished to achieve, piecing together the juxtaposing worlds of the afterlife and the gritty underbelly that is the play and party scene. Despite there being more than enough fertile material within the emotionally complex scene of a drugged up sex party, Among Angels is a Chemsex play that distracts itself by gazing heavenwards.
Running until the 27thof April at The Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton N1 6EU. £12.50 tickets available at TheCourtyard.org.uk.