GuysLikeU chats to the writer of the hard-hitting play about chemsex that returns to London.
The world of gay is a many splendored thing, a sensational smorgasbord of types to tickle every particular fancy.
You’ve got your two-up, two-down surbabanite fellas who clock in and clock out of their 9-to-5s, happily feathering their nests and enjoying Sunday lunch with their besties and their kids.
Then you’ve got the impossibly beautiful muscle-bound boys of Clapham, who strut around the place like horny peacocks, hopping from one gym to the next before letting rip at the Bridge and two Brewers on Clapham High Street.
And then there are the guys whose sexual hunger is so ferocious that they will stop at nothing to get it. These are the guys who of a weekend get off their tits on drugs and end up having random sex with strangers. Not just for hours, sometimes for days. Alarmingly, this terrifying chemsex scene appears to be growing by the week.
When once it was talked about in whispers, it is now on everyone’s radar, whether or not they want to get involved. For some, it’s a regular pastime that they control, but for others, it is something takes over their lives and can ultimately destroy everything they have.
Over the past year, much has been written and reported on the culture of chemsex. However, it’s been 5 Guys Chillin’, Peter Darney’s hard-hitting play about the scene, that has made the biggest impact and really got people talking.
Now following a series of sell out shows in Dublin, New York, Sydney and Edinburgh, 5 Guys Chillin’ returns to London for a limited three week run at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
We hooked up with Peter to find out what he wrote the play, why he thinks more and more gay men are getting involved and reveals his plan to turn his play into a movie with Russell Tovey.
The play is a very hard hitting look at a group of men immersed in the chemsex scene. Why was this a story you had to tell?
I wrote my play when a friend of mine got heavily involved in this scene. What started as Saturday nights became Friday to Sunday, then Thursday to Monday, until eventually his house became a 24/7 sex party. He stopped sleeping, just G’d out and came too and carried on. He lost his job, got into massive debt, and had a lot of dark times, but also he would tell me hilarious stories of his exploits. Once I knew how to spot them, I realised that this was happening everywhere, that you could find a chill pretty much anywhere in central London with Grindr within 500 metres. And I was fascinated that this secret world existed, behind closed doors, and that no-one was talking about it.
A lot of people may not have experienced the chemsex scene – describe it.
Chem sex means sex on drugs. Whilst we have always had that – alcohol is a drug after all – the new scene specifically refers to a combination of drugs – GHB, Methadrone and Crystal Meth, that combine to make you lose inhibitions and heighten sexual desire. People meet through apps, go to a house, take of their clothes, get high and have sex, often lasting for days.
Why do you think people drawn to it?
I think that the thing I found most in the people that I interviewed was a need for intimacy. London is an impersonal city, it can get lonely. Growing up as a gay, there are fewer role models, we may have had to hide who we are to be safe – and as such we can find it harder to have intimacy. The drugs facilitate your ability to feel that connection for a time. Though they may well impede your ability to find it long term
What kind of people do you think are drawn to it?
One of the things that can be appealing about the scene is that is a class leveller. You could be in this scene regardless of your social class, your educational background, or your personal wealth.
Is it older guys? Or are younger guys being pulled in?
They are – younger people are much more adept at using the types of apps where you might find the parties.
Do you think it is a world that people can successfully live in or does it take its it toll on their lives?
I don’t think so. I think as gay men, we have more relationship freedom in the model of relationship we choose for ourselves. Some people go for fun, and I think for some, going to these parties can be part of a balanced social life. I think the word balance is really important. If anything takes over your life, and puts the rest out of balance – be that drugs, sex, food, exercise or anything else – then we need to think about what it costs us as well as what it gives us.
Have you been to a chemsex party?
I actually went to two, hosted by my friend, when I was writing the play. But I didn’t get involved, I just took a bottle of red wine and sat in a corner. They thought it was hilarious and called me a bourgeois. I didn’t partake in the sex, just watched and chatted to people. The first one was really fun. The second not so much – I saw four people have GHB fits, some very paranoid people, and a lot of chasing of a high that was never going to be hit again that day.
Do you think it’s a particularly dangerous world because inhibitions are lowered and people are more vulnerable?
I spoke to one person who had gone under at a party. When he came round, he realised that he had been “used” while he was under. He discovered later that he was Hep-C and HIV positive from that encounter. It’s also hard to be as careful, when you have been high for days to make good safer sex decisions, or to take your meds. It’s also important to say that you might also find a lot of care in these parties- people looking after each other, making sure they are ok.
It feels like a scene that is full of lost people looking for love but can’t find it sober – would you agree?
Something I asked everyone was “would you date someone you met at a chill out”. Nearly everyone said “No”! Most people said that they delete all their “new best friends” numbers the next day. But then I also met someone who said he met his now husband at a chill-out. I think there are some lost people, thrill seekers, bored people. Not everyone who does this is lost or damaged – some people just like the scene. But it can be particularly appealing to people who want to escape rather than deal, and that can be a problem.
How did you audition the guys?
The first time I staged the play, I made straight offers to actors who I knew, who I hoped would trust me. This is a very different play in terms of style, and in terms of how graphic the text is. We had no idea really- as no-one has ever really done anything like it before, how it would go. Since the response has been so great, I now audition in the way I would audition for any play, with a spotlight breakdown and a meet and read.
Were the cast cautious to start with?
I would like to think that they trusted me, and that we worked together to make sure that through the process we worked within the bounds of all our comfort zones.
How did they research it?
We watched David Stewart’s Chemsex documentary – he has been hugely supportive. He also made us a video so we could make sure we were being accurate in depicting a slam. We watched YouTube videos, shared our life experiences, and found it together. The play distills over 50 hours of interview- but that knowledge and experience informs the whole thing.
You’re planning to turn this into a film. How will it differ?
The film takes some of the stories that made it in to the play, and some that didn’t, some of the characters from the play, and blends them with fictional characters. It gives a snapshot of what a weekend in the Vauxhall triangle might be for some people. The play shows a party in one room over a night – where as the screenplay looks at different parties, linked, over the course of a weekend, and has a strong narrative.
How are you funding it?
We are looking for funding now. In the UK we are very lucky in that there are all sorts of tax breaks for people investing in film. Anyone interested in investing should contact me through my website www.peterdarney.co.uk for further details.
Who would your dream cast be ?
Ben Wishaw, Russel Tovey, Channing Tatum, Freddie Fox and Tom Hardy.
Get tickets for the show HERE
Find out more about writer Peter Darney in part two of this interview tomorrow.