This play feels like something out of time. It is replete with the queer humour of a bygone era, the kind of thing one hoped gay theatre had long left behind.
Counterfeit Skin deals with some familiar themes: love versus lust; toy-boys and sugar-daddies; infidelity. The plot of Jason Charles’ play reads like a straightforward tale of revenge, as the narcissistic Jake, played by James Kristian, messes about all the men in his life, his best mate, his boyfriend, and Leo his adopted father-figure. He plays games with them all, until no one can stand it any more.
There’s a nugget of potential interest here, but Kirrie Wratten’s production just drags. The moments of comedy in the writing, as mentioned, hark back to an unmissed era. He’s fit and paying! giggle the rent boys as they flirt and strip on web cam. One half expects third-hand Polari to rear its head.
The production is diced into scenes so short that any sense of unfolding drama is lost. Charles has little new to say about modern gay lifestyles and the hackneyed back stories of the characters don’t help. At its best this feels like the pilot for TV show, but at its worst it feels like the output of an angst-ridden teenager. Charles has a nice turn of phrase and is well versed in the history of gay issues, but he doesn’t employ these talents as effectively as he could. Occasionally the dialogue is hilarious, but too often it trips itself up. Lines like I hardly recognise you without the orange glow of Gaydar in your face simply sit awkwardly next to clever references to controversial fifties flick Tea and Sympathy.
Performance-wise, the production also leaves much to be desired. The actors lack spontaneity and the whole performance has the feel of an early rehearsal. There’s also far too much cringe worthy flouncing and pained melodramatics.
There are some redeeming moments: there are a couple of intriguing, but under-developed, ideas, and John Rayment, playing Jake’s god father Leo, was excellent, outperforming both the script and the venue. Aaron Marsden’s set design is also nicely done, and the stage doesn’t feel crowded, despite the fact that it consists of a bathroom, a reception/office area and a bedroom it would have been nice to see more made of this versatility.
Though a clear creative hand is evident in the set design, I do feel that the small studio at the new Courtyard Theatre is better suited to use as a rehearsal and workshop space. The seating arrangements remind me of being at school and the (nearly exclusively male) audience had to strain to see the action on stage. Things aren’t helped by the trembling ceiling, reverberating with the thumps, thuds and heavy-footfalls from the main theatre above where A Winter’s Tale is simultaneously being staged.
Following three bum-numbing hours, it’s difficult to shake the sense that what’s filling the front rows is the prospect of seeing a bit of young nubile tackle on stage. If anyone is counting on that, then they will be disappointed. The promised ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ are very mild, very discreet and fairly tasteful. It’s a shame that this assured, professional touch didn’t permeate to other parts of the production.