Why Gay Theatre's Too Soft

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Posted: Thu Apr 8 2010

Adam Spreadbury-Maher is the new Artistic Director of the King's Head Theatre. Here he outlines his vision for the future of the venue, and the future of gay theatre

The King's Head has a reputation for putting on gay theatre - some of it good, some of it terrible. Gay theatre has a very important place in my programming. I've previously directed important gay work by Jonathan Harvey, Joe Orton and Stephen Fry.

I want to make gay theatre at the King's Head less frivolous and more important. I feel that some of us are sitting back a little at the moment. But there's a lot still to feel angry about. How can we still be stuck with the second-class compromise of 'civil partnerships' rather than being granted the same status as heterosexual couples with full marriage rights? How can we still allow people to campaign against gay adoption? How can we still allow many church organisations to legally discriminate against gay people?

There are a lot of issues to be addressed. I'm looking to programme work that deals with these - and to stage the defining gay play of the twenty-first century.

The first play from my company, Good Night Out Presents, at the theatre is 'Studies for a Portrait', which we've staged previously at the White Bear and Oval House theatres and which I'm directing. This is representative of another kind of gay work I'm passionate about. That is, a play which is about a serious and universal subject (how do we deal with the legacy of a great artist after he dies?) in which the characters happen to be gay, but could just as easily be straight.
I'm really keen to increase the number of gay characters on stage for whom their sexuality is incidental rather than the focus of their journey as a character. This is happening more on TV now. Theatre is bizarrely lagging behind. Theatre is supposed to reflect the mood of the nation, so it is crucial that we make gay theatre which challenges attitudes.

Also, theatre should be representative of society. There are stories that must be told: some are stories about gay characters whose sexuality is the whole story, some are stories about gay characters whose sexuality is incidental. If there are stories that need to be told, I want to help them get told, and get told well.

Everyone knows about the King's Head - its reputation, its legacy, the potential of the venue for clever staging and its numerous West End and Broadway transfers. It is well known for being the first pub theatre and the first Fringe producing house. In the last few years, it has been heavily reliant on visiting companies to fill its programming and pay its rent.

When my first full season starts in the autumn, you can throw away any preconceptions you may have about the King's Head. There has been some good stuff on and there has been some very poor stuff on. People aren't having a consistent experience of this theatre at the moment. A reliably challenging, engaging and entertaining night out is the least that people should expect from one of the country's most important theatrical institutions. It's my mission to restore people's confidence in the building.

Following the model I've developed at the Cock Tavern Theatre, I'll be turning the King's Head back into a totally producing venue again. This enables us to match the high standards we've set ourselves with the Cock's resident companies - Good Night Out Presents and OperaUpClose. It's a tough model, there's no doubt about that. It's risky and exposes us (artistically as well as financially).

But I strongly believe it's the way things have to be from now. People are waking up to the idea that just because it's on the Fringe that's no excuse for being amateur and second-rate - especially when you can go to some of our great subsidised theatres for £10 these days.

I continue to see the Fringe as the most exciting theatre space around. It's full of people doing things they love for very little money - for the sake of the art.

'Studies for a Portrait' is at the King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, N1 1QN (020 7226 8561)

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