Friday, October 10, 2014

'Guilt and Shame: Going Straight' at the Soho Theatre, 9th October 2014

When you leave Going Straight, you'll be wearing a pretty princess tiara, you'll be worn out from dished out handjobs and a little sore at being simultaneously penetrated in every orifice at once. You'll also have ritually chanted the name Jeremy Clarkson over and over to a dad jeans n' crap jacketed cult leader.  So in many ways it's a typical Soho night out.

Guilt and Shame are Rob Cawsey and Gabe Bisset-Smith and Going Straight is an intense and fast-paced sketch show about sexuality.  The bedrock of the act is that one of them is gay (Rob) and the other straight (Gabe - appropriately, also the straight man), here they tackle the bull by the horns, slamming straight attitudes to homosexuality on the slab and, with a sinister grin, whipping out a scalpel and performing a full autopsy.

Entering the room you're first greeted by the puffy-faced bovinity of Jeremy Clarkson, standing radiant and Christlike in the clouds.  Oh how I hate this man, and what's worse, I know that he gets a kick out of me hating him,  the bastard.  The sight sent a shiver up in my spine, as did a nearby sign reading "The Church of Clarkstianity".  The church's most recent (and indeed, only) convert is Gabe.  Unsure in his masculinity he's dived headfirst into a sticky-beery pit of petrol and bad haircuts, tailoring his life to Clarkson's commandments: hatred for anything abnormal, wallowing in intense misogyny, casual racism and wheyyyyy banter lads lads lads!

Meanwhile Rob, despondent about the lack of romance in his life, has decided that being gay might not be his cup of tea after all.  Wouldn't it be nice to give women a shake, just to mix things up a bit?  This dovetails nicely with Gabe's Clarksonian fanaticism and Rob becoming Gabe's test subject in an experiment to deprogramme his homosexuality.

This conversion therapy is the basis the sketches of the show; all bristling with humour and sharply observed gender politics.  We see Gabe taking the Clarkson view of masculinity to it's logical conclusion, soon degenerating into a violent, unhinged monster.  In a marvellous "man's guide to pub etiquette" Rob tries to order a drink in a pub and chat to the landlord. He's stymied at every turn; "Beer? Rhymes with QUEER!"  "Guinness?!  Rhymes with PENIS!". It's not long before they're downing pints of neat vodka, discussing the least gay sport that can agree on (paraplegic men's fishing) and hurling infinite pint glasses at the wall.

The moment that sums up this absurdist tone best is Gabe arguing that it's gay for a man to touch a penis, even his own.  Following this to the letter, he stands proudly atop a chair and pisses himself.  At moments like these there's a beautiful glint of insanity in Gabe's eyes, his crazed expression both freaking us out and making him weirdly sympathetic.

Key to any of this working is Rob and Gabe's essential likeability.  Taking on the persona of a rabid homophobe in front of a crowd of pissed up, late night denizens of Soho has the potential to go very wrong very fast.  There's a few moments where they're skating on some pretty thin ice: during a sketch where Rob is trying his best to chat up a lady, Gabe advises him to tell the most racist joke he knows.  "H-how many black men does it take to change a light bulb?" stutters Rob.  The audience collectively holds its breath.  I won't spoil the punchline, but needless to say they pull back from the brink.

That said there's more than a few walkouts throughout the show, which is less a reflection of its quality and more a reflection on them.  Charitably I suppose they might have trains to catch, uncharitably I reckon they're conservatively-minded prudes for whom the sight of lasciviously beaned up, badly wigged, blissed out buggery is a step too far, at least on a work night.

Underneath the lashings of bodily fluids and parade of hard cocks lies a sincere message about sexuality.  Trying to crowbar your identity to fit into predefined roles - let alone ones defined by Jeremy fucking Clarkson - is going to end in tears.  "Be yourself" might be kind of a corny moral, but that doesn't mean it's not an accurate one.

The back and forth between Rob and Gabe is consistently hilarious throughout; the mood in the room relaxed and friendly (especially as the crowd had presumably had more than a few drinks by the 22:15 start) and everybody is eager to join in with participatory cheering and the odd synchronised dance routine.  I had a whale of a time and laughed my socks off. Then again, if you're a tight-arsed-Daily-Mail-reading-UKIP-voting-chortle-at-racist-gags-on-Top-Gear-sort-of-type this show probably represents everything you hate in the world.  But bollocks to you, you don't deserve to have this much fun.

'Guilt & Shame: Going Straight' is at the Soho Theatre, Thu 9 Oct - Sat 11 Oct & Thu 16 Oct - Sat 18 Oct, 10.15pm - £10.

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