‘Grey Area’ at VAULT Festival review – Queer relationship drama is on/off in many ways


Peter has a problem, and he’s not going to tell his partner Jackson or indeed the audience what it is until the last minute. Frustrating? Just a tad. Awkward? Most definitely – though that both helps with the script’s comedy and amplifies the more jarring elements of the play. We know something’s wrong, we can sense it reaching a head, and the audience’s anticipation only lasts so long.

To put it another way, Grey Area certainly lives up to its name in timidly tip-toeing around powerfully emphasising a particular point or idea until the very end. Some might argue that’s rather the point, but such prolonged ambiguity when the play hints at something more than just a casual gay romance just doesn’t suffice, even once one has considered the many strengths of this production.

The acting is particularly strong. Lewis Kennedy plays Peter with a curious cynicism and Jonny Peyton-Hill’s Jackson (he’s also the writer of this semi-auto graphical play) carries himself with an amusing sense of confidence and wit. Equally impressive is the set design from Iona Curelea, whereby certain objects from a fragile relationship hang on strings of wool across four frames, as if symbolising all the connections these people establish between the two lovers.

Along the way, we get a mock lecture from Jackson about the restrictive presentation of the “gay perspective” in the mainstream media (mostly topless white cisgender men) as he tries to understand who he truly is away from a relationship. It could have been a fascinating subplot on finding your true queer self, but the running time is an hour, and thus it’s left undeveloped, with no real closure. In fact, when the main source of dramatic tension is revealed at the end of the play, all of these minor developments are cut away – not too dissimilar from the play’s mild conclusion. To further expand upon the wool point with a pun: it hardly ties up everything into a cute little bow, rather it oddly paints Peter and Jackson’s situation as tragic and rather bleak.

Mental health often is difficult, of course (I learn that the strains of an undiagnosed condition on a relationship is the main topic of the production after having watched it, not during the show itself), and if Grey Area wants to present the stark realities of that – which it clearly does – so be it. Though, revealing Peter’s big secret at the very end isn’t impactful, rather a tad underwhelming.

Had this revelation been at the start, and we see the problems with Peter not disclosing this in the earlier stages of their relationship with Jackson, then I sense the narrative would have been much tighter, without such awkward ambiguity.

Grey Area is now playing at VAULT Festival until 19 February. It will then play at the King’s Head Theatre from 27 February to 5 March.

Production Images: Homing Bird Theatre.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Grey Area’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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