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Review: Mark Gatiss in The Boys In The Band, Park Theatre
Mark Gatiss and Jack Derges © Darren Bell

Mart Crowley's 1968 play is set at the home of Michael (Ian Hallard), a lapsed alcoholic, who is throwing a birthday party for his friend Harold (Mark Gatiss). Among the guests are the camp Emory (James Holmes), a gorgeous but dim rent boy dressed as a cowboy (Jack Derges) who is a present for Harold, Larry (Ben Mansfield) and his lover Hank (Nathan Nolan) who is in the process of getting divorced.

Everything is going swimmingly in a bitchy sort of way when Alan (John Hopkins) an old university friend of Michael's drops by. Michael describes him as straight and square and is convinced he is oblivious to Michael's homosexuality. Alan's reaction to Emory causes trouble and suggests his own inner turmoil which Michael seems determined to expose. 

Michael is a bitter drunk. The more he drinks, the more it reveals his uglier side born out of Catholic guilt and generally feeling ill at ease with himself. He takes it out on other people and sets on a destructive path determine to make everyone else feel as bad about themselves as he does. His party games certainly reveal some truths - some devastating, some reconciliatory.

There are flashes of the camaraderie and friendship that brought this group together but at times you do wonder why they want to be in each others company. The fun and banter takes on a nasty bite although by the responses it seems par for the course. This is a group of friends who know each others flaws and foibles and accept it - to a point.

Crowley's play shocked audiences when it opened (and had a very successful run) and helped open the door to gay characters and gay drama. In The Boys In The Band he highlights the individuality of a group of friends who happen to be gay. They each have their own issues, their own way of coping with life, their feelings and their own ideas about relationships and sexuality. It is a play that mixes fun and laughter with darker elements of human nature. It doesn't have the warmth of My Night With Reg - which feels like the obvious comparison - but then these are a different set of people from a different time, a pre-Stonewall time. It is a hard watch at times but at others very easy, particularly when the Cowboy arrives. Ahem.

I'm giving it four stars and it is two hours including an interval. It plays at the Park Theatre until Oct 30.