A decade ahead of its arrival to these shores, I was the first journalist in the UK to write about crystal meth in the gay press. In 1997, after spending a deranged summer in San Francisco, I returned to London and in the pages of QX warned readers of a highly addictive new drug that was decimating the community on the West Coast. That same year, I wrote and performed ‘Twisted’ with Wayne G, arguably, the first ‘chemsex’ dance tune. That portmanteau had yet to be coined by the late, great David Stuart, but excessive drug use and epic sex sessions were the central themes of that record. They are also the driving forces in Jock Night, a new play by Adam Zane.
Methamphetamine hydrochloride (aka ‘ice’ ’Tina’ ‘crank’ ‘meth’ ‘tweak’) took almost 20 years to get a foothold in the UK, unlike in the US, Asia and Australia, where the epidemic of meth addiction has gripped since the ‘90s. The drug is in a league of its own in its ability to unravel and destroy lives across the social classes. It takes down the wise and rich as much as the damaged and broke. And for some reason, the gays love it.
Not ALL gays, obviously. I’ve never met a Tina slamming lesbian, but I’ve lost 3 (gay male) friends to meth related suicide. Chaos, tragedy and decline has ripped through my social circle thanks to this crop of relatively new party drugs that fuel a sex-based subculture. The ‘chemsex’ world is a complex and often problematic fringe of the wider queer community. This underground scene presents a range of challenges, for health professionals dealing with reality on the frontline or creatives seeking to explore its dramatic potential.
Adam Zane’s Jock Night was produced by Hive North, a Manchester based company that showcases verbatim theatre and new LGBTQ+ work. This sharply penned play succeeds in reflecting the quirks of chemsex culture where others have failed. While creating the project, Zane worked with a number of organisations who offer support to people affected by this ethically knotty realm of orgies, apps and overdoses. Doing the detail has paid off. Jock Night is impressively accurate in its depiction of drug use, status anxiety and the escalating blurred boundaries that are de rigueur at these ‘chill out’ parties.
Jock night is set in a bedroom in Manchester where 5 men meet to get high, bonk and bitch. These sessions revolve around a local underwear themed club night and the action takes place over a 6-month period. The flat where the debauchery occurs is owned by Ben, played by David Paisley. His casting in this role caused a stir for the Seven Dials Playhouse who were faced with protests from a narrow minded, but noisy contingent who oppose Paisley’s LGBTQ+ campaigning work. We live in weird times, but the Scottish star gets the last laugh. He’s perfect for the part and his detractors didn’t stop the show or the existence of trans people. Long may his advocacy continue.
Sam Goodchild plays Kam and is hilariously excellent as the Corrie loving, acid tongued wit of the quintet. Trailing in his imperial wake is the secretly lovelorn Russell, a big-hearted hunk who trades on brawn not brains. Matthew Gent brings depth, warmth and authenticity to a character with less script to chew on than the others. When he gets to flex his range in the 2nd half, Gent steps up and gives us some emotional levity.
Jock Night skilfully navigates the fine line between being responsibly informative while also truthfully reflecting the inherent issues and nuances. It manages that challenge, while also being great fun to watch. The astute writing and ensemble convey why this lifestyle might be appealing to some and perhaps even compulsive. While there are grim consequences and tribulations for these arse-baring hedonists, Jock Night embraces cracking entertainment over the horrors of crack pipes and festering needle wounds. Throughout my extensive research into this field, I’ve found the participants are rarely this easy on the eye or eloquently fun to be around, but maybe I need to get out more.
Zane’s Jock Night is slightly prettier than the grim reality, but he has deftly nailed the magnetic pull and potential hell of dipping into this modern gay phenomenon.
Jock Night is at the Seven Dials Playhouse until 11th of November.
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 13th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: