Review of "Tell Me Straight" at the King's Head Theatre
Tell Me Straight is a new two-hander play written by Paul Bradshaw about a gay man on a path to self-improvement. Staged as part of the Queer Season at the King’s Head Theatre, the show is produced by Gartland Productions and directed by Imogen Hudson-Clayton. With inimitable performances and quick-witted dialogues, the audience witnesses the many layers to dating in the modern age and how our relationships with our sexuality, identity and self-worth are far more intertwined than what we perceive.
The lead character, played by Bradshaw, has set himself a solid 30-day plan to bring order back to his life – no booze, no fast food and most importantly, no more random hookups. His friend Dani (voiced by Stephanie Levi-John), whose disembodied presence is manifested through funny voice notes she leaves for him, blames his infatuations with straight men as the source of his problems, urging him to be more mindful about who he sets his heart on. He’s quick to dismiss Dani’s worries, insisting that it isn’t his fault that straight men are drawn to him. His path towards self-improvement is frequently interrupted by run-ins with new acquaintances, old friends and brief encounters (all played by George Greenland) each of who’s emotional baggage and struggle with their sexuality leaves him feeling worse than before. In the end, he must decide between deliberately putting himself into situations that lead nowhere or focusing his attention on a relationship that has an actual chance of survival.
Bradshaw delivers an honest, heartwarming performance as the main character of the script, bringing a lot of spirit to his writing without slipping into self-indulgence. He’s able to bring forth the character’s emotional spectrum effectively, highlighting his inner turmoil through a measured, restrained approach in different scenes. Greenland’s portrayal of different characters in the text is absolutely splendid, undertaking the difficult job of crafting each of them distinctly enough so we are able to distinguish each from his body and vocal language. His unassuming, conflicted nature as the childhood friend Matt and his uniquely upbeat, self-assured presence as fellow actor Lee stand out the most. Along with Bradshaw, Greenland crafts different scenes of the text, each spanning a different mood and rhythm, and allows us to appreciate Hudson-Clayton’s use of minimal production elements to bring out the relationships on stage. Levi-John crafts an endearing presence as Dani with her voice, being the important “outside voice” that grounds the audience. Supported by Hiba Elchikhe as assistant director, Hudson-Clayton draws our attention towards the different writing forms the dialogue uses – direct audience address, voice notes, video calls, one-on-one conversations – and allows us to build solidarity with each character. Chloe Stally-Gibson’s light design, complemented by Roly Botha’s sound design, allows the performers to effectively use their movements to indicate shifts in time and locations – from dark city alleyways to vibrant pubs – and bring a lot of personality to the conversational approach of the writing.
To summarize, Tell Me Straight is a witty, heartfelt exploration of the confusing, hurtful and absurd consequences of trying to find a genuine romantic connection in today’s age, especially when they come at a cost of one’s own emotional wellness.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 18th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★