What do you do when you’re young, single – and literally the only gay in the village? Written and performed by Rob Ward, one-man show The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me introduces us to Dom, a train-loving wannabe InstaGay who lives in a small northern town. Struggling with panic attacks and fed up of coming home to find his mum listening to Simply Red and popping “Aunty Mandy” (her fond nickname for MDMA), Dom longs for the excitement of the city. When he goes to petition his MP to save the local train station from closure, a new world of opportunity suddenly opens up – but at what cost?
Exploring the issue of consent and grooming in the gay male community, this is a timely and troubling play that’s also, at times, very funny. Dom is an engaging and likeable central character, with a naive vulnerability that instantly makes us want to protect him from the danger we see coming long before he does. He’s clearly proud of but still learning about his sexuality, and to see that innocence exploited and turned against him is heartbreaking. Dom is often hilariously blunt about his life as a gay man, but he’s equally open about his feelings of sexual obligation towards an older man we know to be a threat, and that’s particularly difficult to watch.
Directed by Clive Judd, the action takes place amid a lighting setup that implies a photo shoot or – perhaps – a revelatory video, Dom’s status as a fledgling influencer offering the faint hope that his abuser’s actions might one day be made public. Rob Ward easily holds our attention and displays an impressive versatility as he portrays a number of other characters: Dom’s mum, his friend Alan, love interest Joey and the MP, Peter, among other minor cameos. A slight shift of body position or accent always makes it clear who we’re looking at, even during some extremely rapid-fire back and forth conversations; ironically the only time this clarity breaks down just slightly is in a scene where, under the influence of Aunty Mandy, everything slows to a crawl and it takes a moment to re-adjust to the sudden change of pace.
Powerful use is made during scenes like this one of lighting and sound design (Will Monks and Iain Armstrong respectively), which combine to create a feeling of disconnection between character and audience that’s far removed from the intimacy built up during the first part of the play. Similarly, Dom’s panic attacks are accompanied by gradually building effects that intensify the sensation of growing peril and allow us to share – to some degree – in his distress. This intelligent design works incredibly well and lifts an already high quality production to another level.
As we’ve seen as recently as yesterday, with the publication of an article about 18-year-old footballer Jake Daniels and his 46-year-old partner, the debate about grooming of young gay men is a complex one. The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me addresses the issue head on, exploring both why this happens and its impact on victims. Despite the unsettling topic, this is a very enjoyable and well executed play, which keeps us gripped until its final moments, and leaves us with plenty to think about.
The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me is at King’s Head Theatre until 4th June.