Theatre: When you'd really rather not know

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The Independent Culture
MARTIN YESTERDAY

ROYAL EXCHANGE

MANCHESTER

THERE'S AN early conversation between Matt and his work-partner Rachel about whether it is desirable to know everything about someone or whether some mystery is preferable. The problem I have had with the previous plays in Brad Fraser's trilogy is that the audience knows only too immediately everything about his characters and that the comic-book influences that give them so much of their frame-filling extravagance also simplify them.

Matt and Rachel are in fact successful comic-book artists and their early hip wisecrackery seems to promise more caricature. Matt, the likeable young married man who discovered he was gay in Poor Superman, seems to have flicked into an entirely new persona. But in Ben Daniels' strong performance he is still engaging and touchingly nervous as he begins a promising relationship with Martin.

Martin Yesterday (Ian Gelder) is an openly gay local politician tirelessly committed to making Toronto a more humane and decent place to live. For a while, Matt's creativity and Martin's gravity appear an open and mature alliance as they share knowledge of Martin's HIV and Matt's incipient depression.

But you cannot know everything about someone, and as more and more emerges about two of his ex-lovers, now his housemates, Martin's character complicates. Nor is it easy to get a fix on these two: the knowing Quebecois Yves (Nathan Willcocks), and the out-of-his-face kid Rex, played by Daniel Roberts. But as Martin's personality first draws doubts and then darkens, so Matt reveals more of his own self-centred ruthlessness and disdain for "losers" among whom even Rachel (Ruth Lass) comes to be counted. Here is the complexity of characterisation I missed in Fraser's earlier work.

Fraser's argument is that it is the distortions of relationships caused by the pressures of straight society on "sick" gays, and the real sickness of Aids, that so confuse Matt and Martin and bring such destructive frustration.

Marianne Elliott directs the impassioned exchanges with clarity and force and is supported by a design team which ensures that the dance- club settings work as a metaphor for the whole urgent action.

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