Review of ‘Generation Games’: “We always need to hear it”

The trials and tribulations of life acquire a new meaning through this gay-themed double play running at White Bear Theatre until the end of this week. Guillermo Nazara reviews this show exploring different age relationships, to let us know what’s in store in a piece where humour and thought bond their creative power.

When I look back upon my life, it’s always with a sense of shame. I’ve always been the one to blame for everything I long to do… And then I told those feelings to f*ck off and get the hell out of my system – after all, I needed to make room for something else… Sadly, being a gay man still means being a wounded soul – a scarred survivor of a past you’ve fled from when you realized it didn’t belong to you, but just been imposed upon.

Not surprisingly, the same story repeats itself over and over again: your family always knew but chose to turn the blind eye to avoid the “problem” (your happiness was never that much of an issue, though…), school became hell as slightest of your true self founded the grounds for your destruction,; and only that ongoing wish of escaping such nightmare (hoping to someday live your life to the fullest) kept you moving – though sometimes (perhaps too many) you’d start doubting if that would ever happen.

Same old story all over again indeed… That could also serve as the slogan for Generation Games, as its plot doesn’t bring anything new to the table. We’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced it. We all know what it is about. But so have their authors. And that makes the difference. Because that’s what turns this piece into something authentic, fresh and eventually, unique.

Written by Michael McManus and Charlie Ross MacKenzie, the show presents two unconnected stories (one for each act), both themed after the same topic but developed in very dissimilar ways: the struggles of everyday life through the eyes (and additional battles) of gay men from distant generations. Both relying on comedy, their evolution takes completely alternate paths: one (I won’t say which until I’m bred… I mean, bribed) leading to a more emotional, dramatic conclusion, while the latter (oooops…) heading for a more reassuring, uplifting finale.

Employing easy (though not simplistic) humour, the whole show proves a point I’ve defended for quite a long time now: that I’m amazing. And also, how you don’t need to be pedantic to be profound. In a world where generally artists have become people pleasers (two terms that not too long ago appeared to be contradictory), it’s a huge satisfaction to watch a play that depicts reality, and defends a genuine cause you can feel the authors believe in, instead of wanting to take advantage of.

The depth of the material stems precisely from such relatability. You can see a mirror image of yourself at some point or another, either if you’re the wise one (obviously my case) that offers his understanding of a world that perhaps hasn’t changed that much or the young naive one that may have more maturity and insight that his age would suggest. When something connects so deeply with an audience (you could tell how engaged the entire -and packed-house was) it’s because it’s done it before with its creators. And for that to happen, there’s an element of personal truth that’s been poured into the pages of its writing. This one had it in spades.

Using a reduced, intimate cast (3 actors for the first part, A Certain Term; 2 for I F____n’ Love You), the company delivers both acts with sincerity, stamina and commitment. Among them, Joe Ashman, appearing in both acts, gives a much praisable rendition exuding charm, charisma and, above all, an incredible ability to transform into two subtly opposite personalities. At the same time, Simon Stallard manages to give an inviting, tender impression through his portrayal of a broken but good-hearted character, both performers working in perfect tandem with Luke McGibney and Charlie Ross MacKenzie’s more driven and dynamic interpretation.

It was the first time I ever visited the White Bear Theatre. And yet it only took some minutes until it felt like home. Because that discussion about society labeling the “odd ones out” was home. That unfulfilled need for protection you were never given as a child was home. That new reliance on the people who’ve lived the way you’ve lived was home. And that sense of warmth from a work that seems to come from the same place you’ve come from, was ultimately home. Don’t get me wrong, this is no show to cry (well, maybe a little), it’s a show to laugh. But it drops its message quite resoundingly: it will get better. Not this piece, however, it’s already polished enough.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Generation Games plays at London’s White Bear Theatre until 22 April. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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