Thursday, 8 September 2016

2 Plays About Gays

Off West End and Pub Theatre can often be where you discover the sort of theatre that challenges and dares to say what others would only think. It is a thriving and exciting environment where it is wise to expect the unexpected and it is keeping Theatre alive today...

Theatre has a wonderful ability to transport the audience to different worlds, some lost in the mists of time and some living in the imagination. For a short while it allows audiences to suspend their own lives and vicariously exist through the experiences of another. Badly realised Theatre can be an experience you never forget but for all the wrong reasons, yet wonderful, beautiful theatre lifts your heart and soul in a way that no other creative medium can hope to achieve. What I love about Fringe or Pub Theatre is that it has very little budget and that is both a blessing and a curse. A curse, in that it is a tortuous endeavour to bring a production successfully to opening night but also a delight. As there is no money to be allocated to expensive set or over blown effects all of the magic happens through writing, expert Direction and the wonder of the performance. Low budget theatre, then, is true theatre that has kept burning at its heart the very reason it exists and that is to connect with an audience.

Lesley Ross has written two, one act, plays that tell the story of characters linked by their sexuality. Middle Aged Rent and The Diva Drag are similar in that they chart the painful life story of two gay men. In today's society, one of legal acceptance and increasing public open support of the right to live a life true to oneself, it is hard to imagine what it was like only a few decades ago. A time when it wasn't so acceptable to be homosexual and was considerably more dangerous to be open about it. Taking my seat at The Hope Theatre, yet another fantastic Pub Theatre venue that I will certainly be returning to, I am looking forward to an evening of character driven performance that challenges as well as entertains. The first play, Middle Aged Rent, cleverly tells the story of "Younger" through "Older's" eyes as he arrives in London as an inexperienced boy living in the Eighties. Effectively breaking the fourth wall and completely engaging with the audience right from the outset, Gregory Ashton as the older and wiser incarnation sparkles with believable charm. Imagine being able to actually deliver your younger self relevant and timely advice and you have the gist of what is central to the play. "Younger" , brilliantly played by Joseph Martin, occasionally engages in conversation with himself but not in a way that breaks the flow of the story as it unfolds. What is so impressive is that the sights and sounds of Eighties London are effectively delivered with a little music and absolutely convincing performance. Nigel Fairs, knowing and unflinching Direction allows for no padding and the play moves at a fast pace with the audience very much a part of the proceedings. As an Eighties boy myself it wasn't difficult at all to remember my own adolescence but, even for those who were born after the decade being portrayed, there would be no lesser connection. Right of passage or self awareness can be difficult and painful courses to chart and Middle Aged Rent does not shy away from the gritty reality of London in the eighties. I was very much reminded of the sharp and uncompromising writing demonstrated with Prick Up Your Ears, the 1987 film about Playwright Joe Orton, with its unflinching portrayal of the struggle for acceptance from a society that doesn't care or want to see.

Gregory Ashton returns for the second play, The Diva Drag, and is accompanied by the acting talent of Louise Jameson. Ashton who plays the dual role of Darren and his onstage drag act persona, Gladys literally sparkles and showcases an impressive vocal talent. Jameson is electric as Branwen, a Welsh Mother who is unashamedly homophobic and very obviously deceased. The interaction between Darren and Branwen, post funeral, is brilliantly delivered and poignantly reveals the son who is desperate for the acceptance he did not receive in life. Experiencing the often,emotional and awkward conversation, develop between the characters is truly heart wrenching but has a horrible realistic feel to it. I was left wondering how many children struggled to relate with parents who just couldn't set aside their own personal bias and bigotry. Darren is left to impersonate his mother onstage and,by doing so, has the relationship he had always craved from his mother. The final scenes are beautiful and live long in the memory but also challenge parents to see their children for what they are and not what they wish them to be. Ashton and Jameson are exceptionally effective in their portrayal of a son and mother who's relationship had broken many years ago. So devastating was this injury that it inflicted a wound on both that would never heal, yet could closure be reached from beyond the grave? I have been a long admirer of Louise Jameson's acting prowess and she is as impressive on stage as she is in front of a camera.

Two Short Plays About Gays leaves audiences with much to consider in regards to the importance of acceptance and communal living. We all have opinions and sometimes they will clash but there has to be a way to live in community and celebrate difference.

Two Short Plays About Gays is running at The Hope Theatre, Islington, until 24th September. You can book your tickets here

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