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Four Play by Jake Brunger

August 18, 2018

4PA frank and hilarious take on the complexities of modern day monogamy. –Londonist

A new comedy about sex and commitment… Effortlessly modern, with hints of traditional farce… Brings to the fore many questions about modern relationships… the beating heart of this play is the fragility of the human heart and ego. –British Theatre Guide

A sparkling comedy of embarrassment… Brunger’s take on the crucial conundrum of human relationships proves to be lively and refreshing. –reviewshub
Are love and commitment mutually exclusive? When we say we want it all, what does that do to the way we carry out our relationships?
These are the questions that pervade Jake Brunger’s Four Play, an entertaining examination of modern relationships seen through the eyes of two gay couples – one in a seven-year relationship, the other engaging in a more open union.
In an attempt to solve the “conundrum” of their longstanding monogamy, Rafe and Pete turn to mutual friend Michael to satisfy their curiosities. Throw Michael’s boyfriend Andrew – a droll, sardonic Michael James – into the mix and the events which unfold force each of them to confront the uncomfortable truths at the base of their relationships and their attitudes towards sex, love and commitment.
Told mostly through a series of vignettes, Brunger’s writing is snappy while Jonathan O’Boyle’s production has the feel of a sitcom. The play as a whole is an interesting portrait of what monogamy means in the 21st century, with well-observed – if at times over-drawn – characters. All of the performances serve to throw some light on the multifaceted challenges of modern love and as the foursome reach breaking point over an agonisingly awkward dinner, the cast do well to maintain the momentum. The production isn’t quite as strong in its extended, more exposed scenes as it is at its most wry, but it remains a thoroughly enjoyable take on contemporary love – and contemporary life.
Enter Michael, a handsome Facebook acquaintance in an open relationship with Andrew, who might just be able to offer the ‘experience’ each of them desires – but just as a one-off mind.
What seemed like a quick fix sparks a chain reaction that forces both couples to explore their own desires, loyalties and whether monogamy is for them.
To be faithful or not to be faithful? This is the question that has troubled characters created by many writers over the years. Does monogamy come naturally to the human race? Is it possible to maintain a loving relationship while, at the same time, having dalliances with others? Jake Brunger’s new one-act comedy takes a very modern look at these age-old dilemmas.
Pete is a high-flyer with an accountancy firm, wearing designer clothes and enjoying a good lifestyle with his partner of seven-and-a-half years, Rafe. The couple talks about adopting children and getting a dog and they plan a wedding at which the music will by Enya (definitely not Kylie). However, they are bored with monogamy and wonder what it would be like to have the excitement of just one fling. With this in mind, they proposition the handsome, gym-toned Michael to indulge each of them in turn, notwithstanding the fact that Michael is himself in a relationship with Andrew.
The opening exchanges produce a sparkling comedy of embarrassment as Cai Brigden’s nervous and fussy Rafe skirts around delicate issues with Michael while Pete sits as a silent, and apparently reluctant onlooker. However, it emerges that Pete is the driving force behind setting up the arrangement. Michael agrees to go along with the idea and what follows serves as a warning to be careful what we wish for. In later scenes, Brunger changes emphasis, toning down the comedy and bringing the secondary couple to the fore.
Michael James’ wounded Andrew becomes the play’s beating heart, giving it emotional depth when it risks descent into shallow farce. Rating himself a six on the good looks scale that makes his partner a 10, he is touchingly self-deprecating and resilient in refusing to be left on the sidelines by the errant threesome. The vulnerability of the seemingly casual and confident Michael is brought out beautifully by Peter Hannah, cringing with feelings of disgust at where his carnal instincts lead him.
The bond between Michael and Andrew is always believable and Brunger makes us think that this couple has reached a point where they can make the compromises necessary for them to stay together. The two couples mirror each other with Rafe, like Andrew, seeking domestic bliss and Pete, like Michael, being torn, scared by the thought of monogamy and tempted to roam
There’s more than a shade of Ayckbourn in this sleek, raunchy farce but as it progresses the mood darkens, each character needing to face the reality of what infidelity has done to their relationship.
The play as a whole is an interesting portrait of what monogamy means in the 21st century, with well-observed – if at times over-drawn – characters. All of the performances serve to throw some light on the multifaceted challenges of modern love and as the foursome reach breaking point over an agonisingly awkward dinner.
Nearly half the running time is taken up by banal rambling conversations about such topics as their recurring dreams (hearing about someone else’s dreams is usually excruciatingly boring in real life, and no less so here), occasionally interrupted by even less riveting moments as when they engage in some arm wrestling. And then all hell breaks loose with dramatic revelations about (spoiler alert) infidelity
For a show that bills itself as a comedy, Four Play does have quite a number of protracted, serious scenes
While there are some contemporary references – the recent “ham gives you cancer” scare story is mentioned – there are also some rather dated narrative devices. It seems odd for a young couple in 2016 to be dividing up their CD collection to symbolise them drifting apart; it’s something of an unwieldy metaphor used in countless films, which should really have been retired by now.
Four Play is an honest, reflective piece that avoids clichés whilst challenging the audience to think about the truth of what monogamy means in the 21st century.

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