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  • Counterfeit Skin by Jason Charles directed by Kirrie Wratten at the Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton, to 10th February
    by Cornelia at 14:45 on 28 January 2008
    A witty and farcical comedy takes on darker overtones in this frank portrayal of modern gay men and their relationships.

    Bald, middle-aged Leo Hawley (John Rayment) has inherited the family confectionary business. He provides a home for charming godson Jake (James Kristian) who enjoys a drone-like routine of eating cake and drinking tea with similarly indolent Ralph (Dean Lyle). Although Jake yearns for change because his needy live-in lover Luke (Jonathan Laury) fails to satisfy his erotic longings, the set-up suits genial Leo, who craves company and the illusion of a family when he comes home.

    In charge of reception at Hawley Confectionery are flamboyantly camp Mach, (James Trueman) and conscientious Pip (Chris Grezo). Pip fields customer calls whilst Mach spends most of his time online to a gay website, arranging dates with ‘clients’.

    Anguished Luke fears that Jake is tiring of him but is told by Leo that Jake is equally uncommunicative with him. Mach decides to shortcut his search for a wealthy boyfriend by seducing Leo, who is delighted, despite Mach’s childishness and embarrassing public behaviour. Mach upsets more than a Covent Garden opera audience when he decides to seduce Jake by flirting and displaying his naked body.

    The well-cast characters show an intriguing range of attitudes. Spoilt Jake is torn between loyalty to Luke and fresh conquests but Ralph prefers emotional attachment: ‘What I want is for a man to fuck me right in the heart’, Ralph confides to the to the uncomprehending Jake. Luke’s intense neediness bores Jake, who complains to Ralph over the Lapsang Suchong:

    ‘He’s even talking about CP’

    ‘What, Corporal Punishment?’

    ‘No: Civil Partnership’.

    Sparkling dialogue is the trademark of Jason Charles, whose previous play ‘Steam’ played to sold-out houses and rave reviews. Mini-farces, such as Mach trying to get his lanky frame in view of the computer camera by lying under the desk at work or gyrating wildly to Madonna recordings add to the sound and visual entertainment.

    Aaron Marsden’s versatile set includes a bath, Jake’s room complete with sofa and cake stand, the company reception area. and even a theatre box, using ingeniously managed lighting. The designer’s eye for detail even extended to waxing James Trueman’s chest to enhance the boyish good looks required for the part of Mach.

    If the first half of the play seems to be a light-hearted comedy, the second part darkens into a psychological thriller as Jake allows full rein to his fantasies, which Mach is only too happy to indulge as he increasingly falls for the handsome idler. Things escalate to breaking point as Mach realises that Jake’s commitment phobia is not about to change. After a nerve-wracking denouement, adjustments are made all round and Leo is arguably set for a future which may be bleak but is more firmly rooted in reality. The final winding-down is perhaps overlong in a play whose characters develop a complexity only hinted at in the early scenes.