They seem fatally mismatched from the start – Hakeem, a high-flying Nigerian-born professor of theoretical physics, obsessed with the minutiae of the universe and self-absorbed by the admiration of his colleagues.
And Jeremy – a gym-fit database manager, failed poet, consumed by a sex-drive that Hakeem doesn’t share.
Yet Free and Proud, by Charles Gershman, somehow shows there is chemistry between them , which actors Michael Gilbert and Faaiz Mbelizi take full advantage of.
Much of the play is made up of alternate monologues and this could lead to a totally disjointed episodic staging, but Peter Darney’s tight but light-handed direction strangely brings the actors closer together and to us.
From the outset we are told Hakeem – in the process of leaving his husband – has been killed in a terrible bus crash.
The problem is this is not Greek tragedy. Their worlds have already drifted so far apart that Jeremy feels nothing at the news and tells the audience he knows they are judging him. And we are because he shows in his many random anonymous liaisons with other men that his lack of guilt is what breaks up his marriage, not the act of unfaithfulness itself.
The play is certainly not a good morality tale promoting gay marriage, but maybe it’s not meant to be. More about the mess any of us can make of our lives.
In the acting stakes, Michael Gilbert is the stronger of the pair and is likeable in a naughty but nice kind of way.
Faaiz as Hakeem is just plain boring and this is more a fault of the writing than the acting. His very long monologue about the death of his father back in Nigeria well outstays its welcome.
The show has been simplified and pared down from an earlier version – and maybe that process should continue – give us a one-man show about Jeremy the loveable philanderer maybe?
Free and Proud runs at the Assembly Studio 4 , Edinburgh throughout August.
Review by Brian Butler
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