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Home / Theater Review (London): The Backroom at the Cock Tavern, Kilburn
An edgy romantic comedy featuring the workers in a gay brothel.

Theater Review (London): The Backroom at the Cock Tavern, Kilburn

If you were to categorise The Backroom as a play, "edgy romantic comedy" might well do it. It's about emotions, about relationships, both sexual and platonic, and you could easily imagine it in many different settings. This one, however, just happens to be set in a gay brothel, focusing entirely on a small group of workers there, which does, you'd have to say, give it a certain edge…

Still, if you ignore that, what you have is a pretty standard storyline, of a new boy arriving into an established group. He upsets old alliances and allegiances, knocks off the top-dog, and generally causes a major realignment of relationships.

The new boy here is Charlie (Daniel Sharman), the young public schoolboy who has adopted the pseudonym Sebastian and is determined to make his way in the new world, along the way upsetting the strutting pretentions of the dim bodybuilder Dallas (Benedict Fogarty), who's small fragments of brain would appear to be located in his biceps, possibly driven their by steroid intake.

The brainy one of the bunch is Sandy (Miles Mlambo), who's also the most balanced, while also being vulnerable, desperate to a serious relationship.

Indeed it's only Sandy and Charlie who are fully developed characters, the others being more sketched stereotypes, a trend most pronounced in Will Stokes' Madonna, who's heading further each day into crossdressing and maybe more.

Mlambo and Sharman do a fine job here of these in-depth characters, managing to convey strong emotion without lapsing into melodrama. The rest of the cast play up to their sketches with enthusiasm and skilful comic timing, even if the movement on the small stage, crowded on top of the packed audience here, sometimes becomes just a little too frenetic.

There's a few lovely political lines in this play: "prostitution is VAT exempt because it is an essential service", "he's a rightwing MP – Tory or Labour? – I don't know", that left me wanting more.

Some of the humour is distinctly of its sub-culture: some members of the audience on opening night were in stitches at lines that went straight over my head… but still I found plenty to laugh at, even if most of the humour is not terribly sophisticated

But it doesn't really need to be: this is joyful entertainment, not serious social commentary, and the late playwright Adrian Pagan managed a lovely balance between drama, pathos and solid laughs.

If I were to make a complaint about the production, it is one area of stereotyping. I really, really can't believe that the gay community only ever listens to Kylie Minogue songs – yet every "gay" play I see seems to have her as a prominent feature. I've nothing against Kylie, but could we please have a little variety in the soundtrack?


The Backroom continues at the Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn, until April 11. Online booking.

About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.

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