People do know the expression, “saving the best to last ‘ and although the other productions that formed part of this years programme of Queer Festival at the Kings Head in Islington have been excellent, this production consisting of 7 short plays by 7 different authors was enthralling, riveting and a superb way to finish a season of some the best gay themed theatre to be staged this year.
The time period goes from 1950 to the present day where over the 50 years we are shown the change in attitudes and acceptance levels from inside a gay circle to how society on some levels has embraced being a homosexual today. The first play by Philip Meeks called Happy and Glorious takes place on the day of the current Queens coronation in 1953. where a group of well do gentlemen are celebrating the event. 3 of them want to stand up for their rights but one an aged actor played be a magnificent Paul Carroll who has only his career and does not want be branded a nefarious poof, a criminal in the eyes of the law. His world is a world of secrecy. He is still attracted to a bit of rough , a south of the river black guy eager to improve his own prospects but believes that boundaries should be in place that class should re respected and kissing between two men was still too intimate. This play is about fear which is beautifully examined and the start of attitudes changing. There is a lovely touch where the term ‘uncles and nephews’ is used with todays equivalent being Sugar daddy and working boy.
Play 2, Mister Tuesday by Jonathan Harvey has moved the time frame to 1965 and features two stand out performance by a very enigmatic Jack Bence you plays Peter who lives in a boarding house in Liverpool where every Tuesday he has a liaison with Jimmy played by a very watchable Elliot Balchin, When by opening his wallet Peter realises that he has been lied too and that Jimmy is really a policeman, the themes of Bi-sexiuality, cruising in toilets, blackmail and passion and coming to terms with your sexuality are brought together in 20 minutes of well crafted acting that showcased the hypocrisy of the law and again times were changing.
Play 3, Reward by Jonathan Kemp moves the year to 1977, the Queens Silver Jubilee and focuses on pure brutality that tells the story of a relationship between skin head called Spike , played again by a terrific Jack Bence and Donald played by Michael Duke an educated black man going to university that gets stranded at a bus stop waiting for the night bus. Spike so totally brutalise by his father played by Paul Carroll with an aggression that is scary in its accuracy knows nothing but violence so when Donald enters his life and teaches him to read his life opens up, The tenderness of this piece linked with the nervous energy that comes with physical attraction made for a very powerful and emotional story beautifully executed by three actors at the top of their game.
Play 4.1984 by Patrick Wilde is set in Brighton at the time of the Tory Party conference where Tommy played by Alex Marlow and Alan played Elliot Balchin are in relationship but Alan scared of being fired from his job working as a writer for Margaret Thatcher he does not want people to know his gay. This is a story about political ambition,living in shame and the huge difference that was emerging in the have’s and have nots and the effects of being totally ignorant about Aids had on people in Thatchers Britain . The acting in this section is emotive and explosive as we are reminded that the bomb in the Grand hotel went off. Enter Spike from story 3 who has been kicked out by his father and is living rough when he attempts to mug and rob them a chain of events starts that is simple stunning and is a reason why this mesmerising set of plays has to be seen
Play 5 Princess Die by Matt Harris moves the year into 1997 Drag queen Shane played by Alex Marlow has a cocaine problem, he is paranoid, his cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality he longs for companionship with Tyler played by Myles Devonte but know that his ways will destroy that before it even has chance to bloom. His own lack of fidelity will also ruin him. This is sharp precise story telling where raw human emotions are opened up and displayed to an audience that if they were honest could relate too , as news of Diana’s death comes from the radio
this completely makes for a sad but also perfect way to conclude this particular story
Play 6 Brothas 2 by Topher Campbell takes us now to 2004 and tells the story of two upwardly mobile black guys Dwayne and Femi played by Michael Duke and Myles Devonte respectively, They like the fine things in life ,they drink Krystal champagne smoke weed and use there social media site Brotha 2 Broth to cruise, going to clubs is not for them. This is a play about black culture and social acceptance told with a great use of comedy and delivered by two extremely fine actors that are to in tune with the material they are delivering makes for very funny and informative theatre and perfectly showcased that applied stereotypes must be challenged and broken down but inherited culture is also to be valued.
Play 7 The Last Gay Play by Joshua Val Martin brings us right up to 2017 and tells the story Robin and Zak and they are going to get married in church and at the centre of this is Robins father played by Paul Carroll as the priest that is going to marry them, This is a study in the conflicts raised by faith and religion and is also very poignant and relevant delivered again by 3 actors that are just so perfect together.
This evening is a pure delight a truly magical theatrical experience and so worth the price of the ticket . You are a taken on a journey and with a beautiful and very moving surprise included that links the plays together you will leave the theatre having been truly entertained Theatre like this is to be treasured and celebrated. Queer Festival 2017 magnificent !
5 stars runs to the 23rd September , Box office 020 7226 8561 kingsheadtheatre.com
Photos by Paul Dyke