Among Angels is the new play from Timothy Graves that opens next Wednesday at The Courtyard Theatre. It tackles the subject of chemsex and the effect it has on a set of different characters with wit and intelligence. Dave Cross spoke to the playwright about this fascinating play.
Hi Tim, what is the basic story set up for Among Angels?
Among Angels is centred around the character of Chris Johnson – a school teacher and recent victim of a false allegation. At a chemsex party in the East End, Pete, a bisexual drug dealer and Satanist, and his much younger lover, Adam, unwittingly put Chris in great danger. A mysterious young man and a chorus of angels do their best to prevent a tragedy from occurring. But ultimately, Chris is faced with the biggest choice he will ever make. Does he choose to build a new life in a world where only love exists? Or will he decide to face his demons and try to fix his current situation?
It’s a serious subject, but how would you describe the tone of the play?
The play does deal with some serious issues – addiction, toxic relationships and false allegations. However there is also a lot of wit and humour in the play – often provided by Adam – a contemporary dancer turned drug dealer. Adam has some great one-liners and, although his relationship with Pete is quite toxic, it is also the source of some of the humour in the first half of the play. Despite some of the more traumatic and harrowing moments in the play, there is also a lot of light. Among Angels is, in essence, a love story between two men who come from two very different worlds.
Can you tell us more about the characters?
Among Angels is also about creativity and what happens when, for whatever reason, the creative impulse is blocked, frustrated or forgotten. Chris is an aspiring actor, Adam a trained dancer and Jamie, the mysterious man who turns up unannounced at the chemsex party, is a cellist. Each of these characters is on their own journey back to reconnecting with a former passion or creative endeavour. Chris, played by Stephen Papaioannou, also undergoes a series of trials which nearly break him; ultimately they make him the man he becomes by the end of the play.
What inspired you to write the play?
The inspiration for Among Angels comes from different sources. Certain traumatic incidents that have happened to me informed the writing of some scenes in the play. I have also been inspired by plays that tell a great story and also represent the supernatural on stage. I’m thinking of Angels in America by Tony Kushner and The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez that were incredibly successful. I still think there is a propensity for a modern-day audience to suspend their disbelief and entertain notions about beings from other worlds. The inspiration for the title itself comes from an incredibly beautiful track by Kate Bush on her album 50 Words for Snow which is also called Among Angels.
Chemsex is a complicated subject that the mainstream media love to jump on, how difficult is it to represent a balanced and non sensational take?
Chemsex is a complicated issue. Let’s face it, people have been taking drugs since the dawn of time. I think it is a very natural and human desire to want to alter one’s consciousness – sometimes by chemical means. However, I do believe that some of the drugs taken now – namely crystal meth and GHB – and the context in which they are taken – continue to be the cause of much suffering. I have been inspired by some excellent plays that have dealt with the chemsex issue in the LGBTQ+ community – namely Five Guys Chillin’ by Peter Darney and The Chemsex Monologues by Patrick Cash. Among Angels is my contribution to the ongoing discourse on the topic.
What can you tell us about the cast and production at The Courtyard?
Among Angels is directed by Peter Taylor who directed the award-winning play Glitter Punch. The cast is comprised of six actors. Some of the actors play multiple roles but this is in keeping with the style of the play as it does experiment with theatrical form. Andrew Armitage, who plays a chemsex addict, an angel and a vulnerable/paranoid young man, recently appeared in Eastenders this year and has been in Humans on Channel 4. Kieran Faulkner has featured in a number of different plays, including Feel/More at The King’s Head Theatre in Islington. Stephen Papaioannou, who plays Chris, has featured in After Liverpool at The Albany Theatre and Tommy Papaioannou (not related to Stephen!) trained at East 15 Acting school, and is also a member of The Arcola Queer Collective. Mohsen Ghaffari has featured in The Treatment and Lovely Ugly City at the Almeida Theatre and Christopher Hardcastle has worked with various theatre companies since graduating. We have been rehearsing over a six week period and can’t wait to open on the main stage at The Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton on Wednesday 3rd April.
What’s next for you Tim?
I am also the author of Homo Jihad and Pharmakeia – both published by Paradise Press. I have also nearly finished writing a memoir entitled Human Angel, so post production, will be spending some time completing this. Among Angels may be my first play but seeing my work performed has been such an incredible experience that, after the dust has settled, I will also be dedicating some time to writing my next one. I have an idea in mind – but it involves researching an historical figure.