It was a shared love of screwball comedies from the 1930s and 1940s that brought Olivier nominee Shaun McKenna and journalist Andrew Van Sickle together one night out with friends at a pub in Richmond. And it was the realisation that so many of the dramatists of the time were secretly gay – think Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Terence Rattigan – that sparked the idea for their collaboration.
What, they wondered, might such writers bring to the stage in the post-censorship year of 2024? What would a gay comedy of modern manners in the same tradition look like?
Exhibitionists, the inaugural production at the historic King’s Head Theatre’s new purpose-built home in Islington, is the result.
Set in the San Francisco art world, Exhibitionists centres around ex-partners Robbie (Robert Rees) and Conor (Ashley Dean Gayle) who collide at a mutual friend’s new exhibition.
Sparks fly as their much younger new boyfriends, Rayyan (Rolando Montecalvo) and Mal (Jake Mitchell-Jones), are caught up in the blast, igniting a series of comic crises involving a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway that leads them to a mysterious Scandi hotelier (Oystein Lode), outrageous behaviour and new beginnings.
In a programme note, McKenna and Van Sickle say that they wanted to create “a play about gay men celebrating our sexuality and unconventional lifestyles but also one in which nobody died, nobody caught a hideous disease and everyone ended up happy”.
I discussed that with the writers and cast following yesterday’s matinee performance. Amongst the other topics tackled were the co-writing process, generational differences, experiences of coming out, video projection magic, Norwegian delicacies, emoji meanings, fidelity, the prospects for “happily ever after”, and the privilege of opening a new theatrical landmark.
I’m on stage with (left-right) Rolando Montecalvo, Oystein Lode, Robert Rees, Ashley Dean Gayle, Shaun McKenna, Andrew Van Sickle and Jake Mitchell-Jones.
Event photography by Darren Ross.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) January 13, 2024
First-look production photos of new comedy Exhibitionists at the King’s Head Theatre in London
With Ashley D Gayle, Øystein Lode, Jake Mitchell-Jones, Rolando Montecalvo & Robert Rees
📸 Geraint Lewis pic.twitter.com/tV52T78rtq
— Exhibitionists (@ExhibComedy) January 8, 2024