The Chemsex Monologues by Pat Cash is back at the King’s Head Theatre for its third run from Tuesday (21 Mar). Here we speak with actor Denholm Spurr about how his private life experiences of drugs and sex have helped his performance as he resumes the role of Nameless.
Hi Denholm, how has 2017 been for you so far?
It’s been a really excellent start to the year. I was named one of the ’12 Leading Men of 2016’ alongside actors like Kit Harington by MyTheatreMates, which was a massive surprise but very lovely. I had a 25-page interview and photoshoot in Jack The Lad magazine and have been interviewed by Attitude. The cast of the last show I was in (The HIV Monologues, also by Pat Cash) was nominated for an OffWestEnd award for Best Acting Ensemble. In all, starts to years don’t get much better!
The Chemsex Monologues is returning to the King’s Head, which is also your third run I believe – what have you learnt from being a part of show?
For me, doing the Monologues was a huge challenge. I remember being terrified at the first performance because I had absolutely no idea whether I could hold an audience’s attention for that long and keep them immersed in the world of the play all in my own. You have to kind of throw out the rulebook when it comes to acting monologues. But it really makes you think about whether you are telling the story you want as there’s no set or other actors to make that happen, it’s all down to you. That’s been a great skill to harness.
Are you able to bring something more to the role as an actor each time you return to it?
Yes, each time I’ve returned to playing Nameless I’m constantly surprised by the evolution. I think that comes down to me understanding more about doing monologues but also my character inevitably evolves as I evolve. When I first played Nameless I would say my understanding of my own personal struggles were a lot more juvenile than they are now and I can bring that maturity to the process.
Have you had any firsthand experiences with chemsex?
Absolutely. I was dealt a few challenging obstacles when I came out. I ended up being homeless and desperately unhappy. Drugs and sex seemed like a momentary escape from that. Although I would add that I don’t think chemsex needs to be viewed necessarily negatively – I’ve had sex on drugs since that period in a safe environment with people I trust and that’s been almost a transcendental experience. It’s all about the mindset, so long as you’re doing it for enhancement rather than escapism, it’s fine in my book. The problem is it can take hold of you completely if you let it and places like London have a habit of swallowing you up and spitting you out when that happens.
When did you start taking drugs?
I’d experimented at university but I was also a repressed straight boy then – yeah, girlfriends and everything! Drugs and coming out as gay were inextricably linked for me. I guess that’s because so many gay men take drugs.
Would you say you were an addict?
To sex, yes. And the drugs facilitated the relentless sex I needed at the time, but if I could have had that sex without the drugs I would have. I feel incredibly grateful for the help I’ve had and my own personal journey that I now am able to have a healthy relationship with sex. Many addicts don’t get that privilege afforded to them once in recovery.
Do you regret ever taking drugs?
I regret that I was offered them at a time when I wasn’t ready, but mainly I regret a lack of education about drugs. I had no idea what I was getting into as a gay man when it came to drugs or sex, or even what it meant to be a gay man because my education on these subjects was remiss. Section 28 has a lot to answer for on this front and I regret that that happened more than any drug taking.
Those experiences must have helped with your Chemsex Monologues performances, right?
One hundred percent – I often joke that I was method-researching this play for three years before it was written! But having such personal experiences can sometimes muddy a role as that person is not you. I have to be very careful in what I bring to the role of Nameless and make sure I don’t brush him with my own paint too much.
What else do you have planned for the year?
The most exciting thing in the pipeline is my production of Romeo & Julian. It’s a version of the Shakespeare classic transported to Vauxhall in 2020. It explores the ‘strife’ between masculine and feminine in our community. Think drug dealing drag queens, circuit parties and the balcony scene in a Vauxhall club toilet. It’s gonna be huge!