Jerker at the King’s Head: Press Night review by Stephen Vowles 

Robert Chesley, who wrote Jerker, made this remark: “Offending people can’t kill anyone but prudery does”, and his ground-breaking play which has not been performed in London for 30 years may do that, but at its heart is an important message about being human, enjoying life and making a statement.

This poignant two hander starring Tibu Fortes as Bert and Tom Joyner as J.R, and directed by Ben Anderson, is powerful, extremely provocative and all set to a pulsating disco beat that adds to the magnificence and urgency of the play. This is a wonderful story about two guys that have sex over the phone, exciting each other to the point of ecstasy, reaching climax, shooting their respective loads with gusto and laughing about their mutual acts of masturbation – and enjoying the very simple fact that they process the power to turn each other on. 

Chesley does look at gay stereotypes, as both Bert and J.R are prime examples. J.R, a moustached guy with a Freddie Mercury look and Bert a fabulous man of colour who takes pride in keeping fit. This is also very hot stuff because Chesley looks at the fact that it is anonymous; there is no visual association between the two men although they describe each other to heighten the mystery, and bring their sexual fantasies to life including the frustration that at times they can’t connect.

Jerker is hugely entertaining and as the attraction of phone sex starts to wear thin the two guys realise that there is a bond happening and start to talk to each other, stories that are not sexually charged, more personal and emotional, turning conversation and communication into a valuable commodity. 

This is also the time of AIDS as the San Francisco community is torn apart by the virus. Here Chesley is a master wordsmith. He still includes comments about sexual deviancy and the script at this point is full on, and it is to the producers credit that the play has not been watered down in anyway. 

This is about the master and the pupil and role reversal, doing the controlling and being controlled to each other’s mutual satisfaction and gratification, where the sexually explicit dialogue and actions by the two actors make for relevant and modern theatre and an ending that is so, so perfect. Captivating and enthralling and deliberately shocking intimate theatre.

Photos by Nick Rutter


Jerker runs to Saturday 23 November at the King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington N1 1QN. Box office: 0207 226 8561

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