Review: The Independent | Coming Out On The Tiles
Coming Out on The Tiles
REVIEW ... Royal Court
by Paul Taylor
The Independent | 12th Nov 1993
It's not the first time this year that we've been made privy to a Gents on the main stage of London's Royal Court theatre. Max Stafford-Clark's Edwardian King Lear opened with Kent and Gloucester discussing affairs of state over a ruminative pee side by side at a Palace of Westminster urinal. That though, was just a flash in the pan (so to speak) compared with MSM, DV8 Physical Company's [sic] extended anatomy of "Men who have Sex with Men" in public lavatories.
Given that the kind of man who wants anonymous sex in dangerous, none-too-salubrious circumstances turns out to embrace many kinds of man (one gay youth reveals that he's found a rich source of willing partners amongst the fathers-to-be who use the maternity-wing loo at the local hospital), this superbly perfomed show doesn't cater for recherché tastes. Rather, it casts a salutory beam through the confused murk of male sexuality.
DV8 has won acclaim hitherto as a modern dance company, but MSM has been created primarily for actors and unfolds as an arresting, highly inventive interweave of documentary discourse (all the words are culled from taped conversations with more than 50 'cottagers') and surreal choreographed movement that helps us see that, for its keyed up frequenters, the dank, prosaic pissoir on stage is an addictive "fantasy zone".
From time to time, as naked limbs protrude erotically through "glory holes" and developed bodies clamber weightlessly over walls or burrow in through gaps in the tiles, you get the impression that a successful cottager would have to be a controtionist with a diploma in rock climbing. But the movement, like all the other elements, is keenly alive to what is comic in this thriving cottage industry, as well as sad or disturbing. An excellent sequence where two strangers in the urinal suddenly turn into two mates downing pints at a pub (glasses handed in through a hatch in the tiles) graphically pinpoints how male companionship is very much not what these men are after. It is precisely the fact that they don't have to disclose anything about themselves there that makes conveniences convenient for this form of "intimacy".
As to why men do it, MSM suggests that there are a multiplicity of reasons and that the world is a very various place. The police agent provocateur who himself becomes addicted and makes expert use of his inside knowledge is a very different customer from the 35-year-old self-hating legal assistant whose ultimate fantasy is to be murdered, or from the married man for whom a quick bout of mutual masturbation in a bog feels like a way of nipping out of his real life for 10 minutes, leaving everything on hold, and then nipping back with (hopefully) nothing affected.
MSM does not adjudicate or editorialise, but listening to the diverse evidence, you may feel that Gore Vidal had a point when he argued that "heterosexual" and "homosexual" are terms that describe acts not persons. De gustibus... I warmed to the old queen who most enjoys the furtive note passing and when asked "What do you like?" usually scribbles back "Barbra Streisand".