This evening of short plays inspired by seven decades of gay life is worthwhile, if a little underexplored
Gays were invented in 1952, according to this collection of short plays that looks at homosexuality in the seven decades since. Starting from the Queen’s coronation and ending at a gay marriage in 2017, the seven plays compiled in the ‘Outlaws to In-Laws’ range in time and in quality, but not particularly in tone.
Although there are some good writers involved, such as ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ creator Jonathan Harvey, the collection suffers from two major problems: a lack of imagination in the way the stories are told, and the frustrating fact that, at 20 minutes each, there is so little space to tell them. It just isn’t enough to get under the skin of any issue the plays raise – Section 28, race, AIDS, prostitution, religion and class. The format almost works against what the evening is trying to do.
Still, each piece has its moments, helped by a versatile six-strong cast. Paul Carroll gives a big, bitter performance as a drag queen in 1952. And in 1964, Peter, played by Jack Bence, suggests that the best an openly gay couple can be is ‘not a freak show’. Bence, in fact, is the best thing about this. He plays someone completely different in each play, from a reformed National Front member to a desperate thief, made homeless after being diagnosed HIV positive, intensely physical each time and shedding his skin for each new scene.
Matt Harris’s 1997-set play ‘Princess Die’, which sees Alex Marlow as a Diana impersonator hallucinating a Calvin Klein model into life, finds a fresh way to tell its story. The rest of the evening is a bit one-note, and it’s so frustrating because there are some mighty stories to tell buried in here.
The evening, directed by Mary Franklin, is sad and somber, and its tender moments are muted. That’s partly to do with the depressing history of being gay in this country – and it is powerful to have so much awful British social history presented in one evening, condensed and telescoped – but partly it’s to do with the sameyness of the plays.