After being postponed by the pandemic, Matt Parvin’s new play Gentlemen has now opened at the Arcola Theatre.
Gentlemen explores the intricacies of society’s conventions, class dynamics and the complexities of human relationships.
In this new drama, Parvin tests the limits of retribution and the power of social status, as class struggles combine with the erasure of bisexual identity for two young men who struggle to fit in at one of England’s top universities.
Vulnerability twists into spite as a cornered victim turns aggressor. Retaliation may feel justified in the moment. But when the truth is discarded to address decades of mistreatment, can anyone actually be in the right?
Greg has taken to university life like a duck to water. Kasper is struggling to fit in. Summoned to a mediation session with Kasper and the college welfare officer to discuss an accusation of plagiarism, Greg deftly argues his way out of trouble. But when the allegations evolve into something altogether more damaging, how long can Greg remain untouchable?
In Gentlemen, Richard Speir (Broken Lad, Spun, Byron: Angel & Outcast) directs Charlie Beck (The Breach, Frost Hollow Hall, Silent Witness) as Greg, Edward Judge (Of Mice and Men, The Play That Goes Wrong, History Boys) as the Welfare Officer Timby and Issam Al Ghussain (Word Play, King Lear, Macbeth) as Kasper.
As Greg, Charlie Beck plays the confident lad’s lad talking about his body count, making homophobic and biphobic slurs and defending them with “everyone does it”. He soon comes to realise his actions and words have consequences, when his seemingly quiet and vulnerable victim Kasper, played by Issam Al Ghussain, becomes manipulative and uses Greg as an example for decades of mistreatment towards the LGBT+ community as a whole.
Edward Judge, as the university’s welfare officer, attempts to mediate, however soon realises he’s unable to cope as both boys manipulate him towards their own cause. Edward Judge’s portrayal of Welfare Officer Timby is both relatable and endearing. With his expert handling of the slightly bumbling, Timby, Judge effortlessly draws out some awkward yet humorous moments that prompt genuine laughter from the audience throughout the evening.
Charlie Beck delivers a compelling performance as Greg, skillfully using his boyish charm to craft a character who undergoes a convincing transformation, from oozing toxic masculinity to revealing genuine vulnerability. Issam Al Ghussain’s portrayal of Kasper is truly captivating, holding the audience spellbound even though he doesn’t speak until late in Act One. As the character undergoes a powerful transformation from victim to aggressor, Al Ghussain’s makes every word Kasper speaks completely riveting.
Gentlemen delves into it’s characters desires, struggles, and vulnerabilities and all three actors give compelling portrayals achieving emotionally resonant performances. Matt Parvin’s script is richly worded and intellectually drawn and each actor expertly makes his character personable drawing the audience in.
Matt Parvin’s play raises some important conversations around toxic masculinity, cancel culture, weaponised sexuality, false allegations and contemporary queer rights. As an audience member I found myself championing all three characters at different points of the evening and the ending left me wanting more.
Set in the Welfare Officer’s office, Cecilia Trono’s set design was delightfully detailed and a character in itself. Although presented in the small studio space at the Arcola Theatre, Will Alder’s effective lighting design and Jamie Lu’s sound design never became intrusive, subtlety enhancing the play throughout. Although dealing with some fairly serious subject matter, Richard Speir’s direction allows for audience reaction and audible gasps and a few well played laughs were achieved as a result.
Boasting a talented cast, skilled direction and complex subject matter, Gentleman at the Arcola Theatre is a captivating and engaging piece. Relatable and intellectually stimulating, you’ll be thinking about this play longer after it ends, making it a must-see for anyone seeking a thought-provoking and memorable night at the theatre.
Reviewed by Stuart James