On the 4th of February I went to see No Sweat at The Pleasance Theatre. No Sweat follows the intertwined stories of three gay men, Tristan (Denholm Spurr), Charlie (Manish Ghandi) and Alf (James Haymer) who although from disparate beginnings are all searching for their own sanctuary as they battle with their queer identities and homelessness. This battle leads them to FLEX, a 24 hour sauna where you can stay overnight in a space that is warm, accepting and seemingly safer than the streets.
As I enter the theatre space I feel the heat rising. Not in a “I can see a hot man wrapped in only a towel” sort of way, although I can, but as the audience are placed as voyeurs to the happenings that occur within the sauna, now complicit. We sit with hands stamped in the same sauna that provides shelter for these three young men. This sauna is comprised of four watermarked perspex screens that are moved deftly by the cast to create spaces for intimate interaction whether that be in a toilet cubicle, shower, steam room or interview space. Although meticulously cleaned by Charlie who works at FLEX, the conversations that happen within these spaces are never sterile.
It is the narratives of the three men that hold this piece together so well. Based on verbatim interviews with members of the homeless community the audience get an insight into the realities of homelessness and its intersection with queerness and race. Where curiosity comes at a price, where citizenship is a privilege and risk takes many insidious forms. The real stories are beautifully crafted and the actors are tender with their trajectories. With this tenderness beautiful moments of care, honesty and occasionally joy occur, particularly with the sharing of goods and more importantly, survival advice. Yet this is not to rose-tint the realities of this sauna. Although initially it appears to be a sanctuary for those who frequent it, it soon becomes far from that. This piece got me thinking about spaces: the spaces that we are allowed to take up, the spaces that we seek out and the spaces that we run from. Where even havens have their own politics and euphoria has its comedown.
We are left unsure as to how their stories will continue. Where instability has become the only consistent feature in the three mens’ lives. Although this piece is particularly personal as we watch the intricacies of identity unfold, it still manages to expose the entrenched racism and homophobia that exist within systems that claim to help. It reveals the battle against the system where aid is near non-existent yet its problems- omnipresent. For 70 minutes we witness a reality that many undergo as director Vicky Moran, the actors and team put faces to stories that for so long have remained invisible. Go and see for yourself.