Shameless Theatre Company


American Briefs


Above The Stag Theatre



29 Oct 2008 – 23 November, 2008





ary Couzen

A review by Alan Taylor for EXTRA! EXTRA!


American Briefs is a series of ten short plays by American playwrights. The brief plays are a whistle-stop tour around gay culture including love, relationships, sexual habits, cruising, phone calls and more. 

We open on ‘The Virgin Tango’ by Tom. W. Kelly- a play about two male teenagers at their school dance evading that ever elusive first kiss. Sweet and nervous, one of the characters (played by Richard Gee) determination to get it so ‘right’ the first time stops anything from happening. Well played and reasonable, one character asks, “Are we clichés?” and, for me, having the school geek and the captain of the football team get together is a bit of a cliché. Let’s just mention the film Get Real or even the music video for Smalltown boy by The Communards. Nonetheless, it’s well written and executed.

Ronnie Larsen’s ‘The Phone Bill’ provides excellent Noel Coward-esque humour, no doubt injected somewhat in tandem with director Peter Bull. The exchange between the two men is comically melodramatic, and often invokes that Ayckbourne middle class eccentric. Played over tea, it is the typical tale of a bullish male who believes that phone sex is not essentially cheating. What is said is not half as important as how it is set- the comedy arising from the caricature rather than the words themselves.

Larsen also contributes ‘Isaac and His Sex Addiction’. The delivery was a bit dry, but essentially got the message across- about the inner guilt of gay male promiscuity becoming a sex addiction and cruising places like Brompton cemetery (don’t ask- all will be revealed). Comic in some sense, but you can’t help but feel it promotes and supports a stereotype of gay males that has long been fought against. However, George Michael has single handedly done more damage to the gay community in that way…

‘The Black Eye’ by Jim Dalglish tells of a man into leather who tries to pick up a council estate boy. Dalglish was in danger of labouring the scenario, but the message is strong, clear and one I whole heartedly agreed with. Tired of sexual escapades, the ‘leather man’ tries to force the closeted estate boy to confront his demon. Leaving us with the leather man obsessing over this encounter, I think Dalglish could have snipped it about 4 lines earlier to really leave us reeling from this short’s punch.

Jack Hefner contributes “The Student and the Professor” and “The Student and the Handyman”. Bull did well to cast Leon Ancliffe in these roles for his explicit sexual persona that really brings the pieces to life. In both plays it is he who leads and encourages the sexual encounter with no remorse as to what the consequences may be.

‘Your Friend Michael’ by Howard Walters is as much chilling as it is heart-warming. An old school friend tracks down someone he has obsessed over for years only to find that the object of his affection is now married, and doesn’t appear to remember him either. The ‘accidentally on purpose’ event is spooky in places, but well intentioned.

David Johnston offers us ‘Letters’- a short about a gay couple on Valentine’s Day who decide to write each other a letter about their true feelings for one another. When the inevitable conclusion arises, I couldn’t help but feel that one of them had got their just desserts. I feel there was an intention for it to be sorrowful, but instead I think it was more empowering and just.

We return to Kelly’s characters from the first scene in the last offering ‘Faded Photographs’. The two characters meet again 20 years later on a gay cruise. One has become bitter, cynical and unwell. The other is now a doctor. Powerful and moving, it left me with the hope that there really is true love out there for us all (yeah, yeah… I know I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. Actually, scratch that- a hopeful romantic).

Phew! I know- there’s a lot to digest, but actually the transitions were seamless and it was extremely well presented. Also, there’s not a heavy focus on any play, so there’s no dull moments or laboured energies on stage making it extremely entertaining. The excellent direction by Peter Bull make the myriad of ideas and concepts fit into one neat little box without you stopping to think, or having it jar too much.

A newly opened fringe theatre, I am actually really happy for The Stag because of the community feel of it. What I hope they will achieve is what I think was their original intention in setting up the theatre- to have fun with it. This is not a venue that has been averse to live entertainment in the past, and setting this up proves that it could be a successful concept. Only time will tell!

Heart warming, funny and fast paced, you won’t be left feeling short-changed by American Briefs. It’s a fun night out with a great audience in a relaxed atmosphere.



American Briefs is playing until the 23rd of November
Performance times: Tues-Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm
Tickets £12/ £10 conc.
For more information, call 0844 478 0030 or go to
This play contains themes of an adult nature




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