Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer is my mother’s favourite hymn. It’s also a new show about chem sex. It was also, as I learned this evening, played at the Queen Mother’s funeral. The confusion, delight and discombobulation of this unholy trinity is reflective of the show’s overall aesthetic and impact. It’s a nuclear waste lovechild of The League of Gentleman, Antiques Roadshow and a Friday night in Vauxhall.
The audience is led to a function room. You wait outside a door with a sign saying ‘Queen Mother Remembrance Society. Please knock and wait’. You do as your told. A surreptitious man in what looks to be his grandad’s suit opens the door. For anyone who’s ever used a hook-up app before, the feeling is familiar: this is not what I signed up for. You enter regardless.
The man, who we quickly learn is David, welcomes us into the hired, mostly bare, room. He namechecks each of us: “bubble butt”, “sane n sorted” – the ubiquitous misnomers of meaningless sex. We take our seats and David starts to painfully prepare a plate of assorted crisps. He tszujes the four flavours together with long straight fingers. It is sad. It is funny. It is real.
In one corner, David has arranged a disco light and a small stove, brewing fish stock so we don’t get worn out. He’s created a six-hour John Barrowman inspired playlist to put – and keep – us in the mood. He eventually spells out – literally – what we are here for. An O-R-G-Y orgy.
Something’s stopping him, though. In between YouTube videos watched huddled around his ‘computer phone’ and intricate and intimate details of the Royal Family’s day-to-day, we catch glimpses of a stressed, depressed man. Anxious about his future and disappointed with his past, David sees the Queen Mother Remembrance Society as his final farewell – or perhaps as a last chance to escape.
The play, written by Paul Haworth, is funny and well-observed. Despite a slightly sluggish start, this script flows well and is oddly believable. Both character and audience journey are satisfying, with the audience more than willing to come closer for the play’s final act of participation. It is carefully constructed and thematically bold, however could – and should – push more in what it asks of its audience. We pass around crisps but what of “the chem sex” itself? David describes his perfect sex position – but would there have been a willing volunteer? There was a tub of Vaseline on the table. Take it and go deeper.
The character of David is a cocktail of creepiness and charm. His naivety and eccentricities warm an audience to him, and David G. Lees performs a lot of the script with resolute skill. Some exclamations and emotions need further work, however, feeling a little more am dram than la noblesse.
The piece has been specifically designed for function rooms and other hireable spaces. It’s an interesting (and easily self-produced) concept, and works relatively well although I wonder if the added intimacy of a domestic setting might not enhance the experience. Like its setting, the props and costumes are suitably drab. David’s belongings, like his own sensibilities and his mother’s morals, are straight from the seventies. Sound and lighting is largely self-operated but to significant effect, and some eerie goings on are hilariously executed.
Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer is amusing and bemusing, and not just another profile to scroll past. This premiere is a strong start to a show that could go far, given the right enhancements. It describes itself as a ‘site-specific sex/drugs/body-positive musical comedy’ which I’d argue it isn’t – but what it is is very entertaining.