by Natalie Bennett

Counterfeit Skin is in many ways a traditional story, of misfit damaged characters consumed in unhealthy relationships and dead-end jobs, but done, particularly in the first act, with a light touch that makes it a decent example of that often difficult genre, dark comedy.

There’s an ungrateful layabout youth living off his godfather, a couple of bored, underoccupied receptionists playing dating games on company time while the more uninhibited of them seeks a perfect sugardaddy, the much put-upon partner seeking intimacy while his partner flees at speed.

That all sounds like cliche, yet writer Jason Charles has done a fine job of making these characters – stuffed up not so much by their parents as their past – sympathetic, if over-the-top.

The acting is solid enough, if in the final dramatic denounement beyond the scale of the mostly young cast. The script allows for the melodrama to be played with glee, which is just what the cast: James Kristian, Jonathan Laury, John Rayment and Chris Grezo, Dean Lyle and James Trueman do.

There are, however, a couple of glaring problems with the play and the production.

One is length. Three hours is way, way too long – it is not that the show often drags per say, it is just that a nice digestible cupcake, like those produced by the firm at the centre of the story, would be far better than the ginormous platter of heavily laden chocolate brownie being served up here.

The other is the televisual structure – we flick from short scene to short scene, and furniture seems to be being moved on a darkened stage almost as often as we’re watching actors.

But the application of a decent slather of editing would solve both of these problems, and make a show you could take almost anywhere – well you could, should the West End stage be ready for a definitively “gay” play.

For, as the cast list above indicates, there are only male characters, and while they’re not quite all sleeping with each other (it gets complicated), gay love lives is pretty well all they are interested in.

But I fear that while I’ve reviewed some spectacularly good plays set within the gay world on the fringe, it may be some time before I see a show like this on Shaftesbury Avenue, which is a pity.

The show continues at the Courtyard Theatre until February 10.
Other views: Evening Standard, The Stage.