Homme Fatale @ Pleasance Theatre, London

cast list
Christopher Pender

directed by
Robert Chuter

When I spoke to Homme Fatale star Christopher Pender after his sizzling performance as Joey Stefano, I could hardly believe that this mild and unassuming, bespectacled, dark-haired, thoroughly charming man with a natural Ozzie accent was the same person I had just witnessed jumping through hoops, mental and physical, on stage for the past hour and a half, supported only by noises off – including on this particular evening thunder and the pounding rain. His companion at that time said, “You know he is blond”. I replied that I had noticed!

I did not know what to expect of this play save its theme of gay pornography. My wife was one of only two women in the audience. At the interval all the men in the audience, nearly all of a certain age, descended to the bar and sat – as they might have done in ancient Ostia on the 24-holer – and as school children of equally undeveloped social skills do on entering a party today. One of my friends explained that they are the same set that frequents the gay porn cinemas. Happily, they will not have been disappointed by what they viewed: Christopher Pender has a lithe and sexy body and a sense of movement that would win him a go-go contest. The cop strip was exciting – but particularly (I guess) for those into uniforms.

This play is carefully crafted. I would like to see the text, chiefly in order to commit to memory some of the devastating one-liners. It is a little like an extended gravedigger’s scene: the most serious thoughts and actions are broken up by verbal legerdemain that ranges from the wise-crack to the penetrating but humorous observation.

There is something for most American males to identify with – the un-hugging father, for example – or, in the case of gay men, the maternal response. Just as through the play there are layers (has Joey appeared in porn magazines before he has been discovered? – what is being said here?), at the end – rather like the end of a Mahler symphony – more layers of meaning and significance are troweled on to the already substantial text.

This is a one-man show, and I can easily envisage an actor less well-endowed than Christopher Pender not bringing it off. The fact is that from the very beginning, long before he gets his kit off, you know that gay sex, porn, and prostitution is in this guy’s jeans. When he gets his kit off the audience can admire his beautiful body (pity about the tattoo) and, within minutes refocus on the serious matter of the play. What an actor! If you had met him after the performance as I did you might have concluded that he is dull-eyed.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. His face – not his cock – is the focal point of this performance. He has and is able to deploy apparently effortlessly the broadest range of animated expressions imaginable – all highly credible. In a one-man show nobody else can help out. His American inflection – at least in the view of two Americans (I am one) – is faultless: I was astonished to hear him speak in an Australian accent.

What a dancer! What a mover! The human body is rarely in itself attractive. What one does with it can be highly seductive. Even when going through the descent into drugs and disease in the second half of the play, Christopher Pender made what he was doing believable, accessible, and even strangely attractive. This is not in the text so much as in the performance. So, has he trained in the past as a ballet dancer? – or at least a go-go-dancer? Look out for this guy; he is going to go places. At least we hope so.

The remaining performances are probably sold out, but get your name on the waiting list for returned tickets. This is a must see.

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