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Gaming Events 2019 - Review: Cheaters: A Play About Infidelity (KinkyBoot Institute, GM Fringe) -

Sunday 8 July 2018
King’s Arms, Salford

On Sunday, I was at the King’s Arms (or Kings Arms, depending on your feelings about apostrophes) to see my next Greater Manchester Fringe show: Cheaters: A Play About Infidelity, written and directed by Ramsbottom-based comedian Lewis Charlesworth.

Cheaters is unabashedly a farce, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a one-act comedy about marital infidelity. Married men Kev (Charlesworth) and Dave (Dan Sheader) bring two (also married) women back to Dave’s house for a bit of ‘extra-curricular activity’. Laddish Dave has copped off with Alex (Kathryn Stirton), who is more than enthusiastic at the beginning of the show (entering the stage with her legs wrapped round Dave’s waist and proposing a raucous toast to ‘freedom’). Kev is more awkward and uncomfortable than his friend, and is ill-at-ease with Jess, a woman who goes from horny to hostile at the drop of a gin.

As the evening (or rather, early morning) unfolds and the booze flows, the foursome encounter various obstacles to their anticipated couplings. Surprise revelations and realisations (plus a rather physical reaction to a drinking game) conspire to make the planned activity seem less palatable. Undeterred, the lads decide to come up with a different plan.

Make no mistake, Cheaters is as light-hearted as they come. It’s bawdy (downright filthy, in places) in its humour, and pretty straightforward in its content. This is not biting satire by any means, and the closest Cheaters comes to social commentary is its (very funny) assessment of Wetherspoon’s as ‘the home of budget infidelity’.

But it works – because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is. As Alex says towards the end of the show, there are far more important things going on in the world, so a bit of consensual adultery shouldn’t be too serious a concern. While some people might find the rather nihilistic approach to marriage a bit sad – when each of the characters explain their reasons for cheating, it becomes apparent that they run the gamut from happily married with a devoted spouse to ‘living separate lives’, suggesting that no marriage is really secure from infidelity – the play is of the old school domestic comedy variety, and we’re never encouraged to take things too seriously.

Of the performances, Charlesworth is a stand-out. Primarily a comedian, he brings a farcical physicality to the role of Kev. This begins with facial expressions, but escalates to a full-blown bodily routine (culminating in… well, you should probably see the show to find out). Sheader’s performance as Dave is quite the contrast, but equally enjoyable. Playing laddish extremes for laughs, Sheader steers just the right side of cliché, and his Dave offers a verbal counterpoint to his friend’s increasingly anxious contortions. Weirdly, by the end of the show, I found Dave to be one of the more sympathetic characters, and this is credit to Sheader’s performance.

Speaking of physicality, all the cast deserve praise for their near-acrobatics on what is a pretty low-key set, comprising a sofa, a coffee table and a drinks cabinet. Despite the fact – and this was revealed by a slight slip of the throw that covered it – the ‘sofa’ isn’t actually a sofa, the four main characters cavort on and across it with admirable enthusiasm. When called upon to ‘hide’ themselves on a stage with no hiding places, the actors let the minimal set enhance the comedy of the scene.

My only reservation about the play would be in response to its final scene. Without giving too much away, this scene sums up the relationships presented on stage and points to a happy, light-hearted resolution with no permanent harm done. It’s a fair conclusion to the laissez-faire atmosphere of the play. However, there are just one too many mentions of the characters who don’t appear on stage at any point – Kev’s wife and Jess’s husband – for it to be completely comfortable. In the case of Kev’s wife Helen, there’s just a little hint of cruelty in the continued deception, and this is at odds with the tone elsewhere. Cheaters works because of its everyone’s-at-it raunchiness – it felt strange to be repeatedly reminded of an innocent victim in its final moments.

Cheaters is definitely a play about infidelity. As I said, it’s unashamedly a comedy, and makes no bones about this. But with giggle-inducing dialogue, frantic revelations and knockabout antics, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. Charlesworth has made a strong transition from stand-up to playwright here, and I’m sure we’ll see much more of him in the future (mind you… if you’ve seen Cheaters, you’ve already seen quite a bit of him! 😉).
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