Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • QUEER COUNSEL • F O D Productions @ Croydon Warehouse • 2004

Warehouse_Theatre,_Dingwall_Road,_Croydon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_475510

We have had a plethora of coming-out plays in recent years but this is not another one, though it is about coming to terms with sexuality. Here we have a Christian fundamentalist father who runs a service for ‘curing’ homosexuals, or at least for counselling them to help them give up homosexual practices and fight homosexual thoughts. As played by Tim Carrington, however, in Rob Swinton’s production of this new play by Nick Bamford, this is no demon but a caring man, devoting his energies to helping others, however misguidedly.

It is a play imbued with a Christian ethic. It quotes the Old Testament edicts from a time when it was imperative to go out and multiply and increase the number of the Chosen — so often cited to condemn homosexuality — but it also quotes Christ’s own teaching that without love all other things are worthless, and it suggests by inference that love, all love, is in some way sanctified.

Don’t get the idea that this is a preachy tract. The quoting is in context, not straight at the audience, and there is nothing awkwardly ‘churchy’ about this play. It presents scenes with near-naked bodies, lovemaking and explicit sexual acts. It has its own agenda but it works because it is a play about people and it presents them honestly.

Some of the writing is a little self-conscious and the author risks cliché in trying to show a range of attitudes to relationships and sex, but cliché only because they are so familiar in life. They represent a reality which any gay man, and probably many straight people too, will recognize among their friends: the guy who only has one night stands, the romantic, the self-styled queen devoted to the cats who are surrogates for both children and lovers.

It is a credit to this cast that they go beyond the stereotypes and play the characters with sincerity: Richard Curnow’s publican who claims his feline’s are like past boyfriends — he ‘shelters them, feeds them, strokes them when they need it and looks disapprovingly at what they bring in’ — William Gregory’s wide-eyed Daniel, who has just discovered sex and can’t resist it, and Richard Sandell’s David, the gentle friend still carrying a torch for a lover who doesn’t want commitment.

It may be difficult for people who are happy with their sexuality to accept the sense of abomination that dead Matthew has experienced, and that part of the back-story is given rather than explored, but Darren Cheek’s performance captures the nervous, wild excitement of first experience and love and he also makes a brief and distinctly different appearance as the dead boy’s brother.

Laurence Saunders’ aggressively-written Gary, who has been the object of Matthew’s affection, has no big scene to show the effect of the boy’s death on him but manages to suggest the slow change in his attitude, though the motivation is provided by the plot rather than the writing of his role. His interaction with Alison Belbin, as the dead boy’s mother, becomes especially interesting. She gives a beautiful and touching performance and her character welds the whole play together.

Chris deWilde’s set looks like multiple entrances to a blue-grey maze with vertical stripes of brown. It meets the practical needs of the production and provides a framing for some tableaux-like effects under James Whiteside’s lights. It also suggests both the complexities of life and sexuality, and a wooded cruising area, while forming a neutral background for interior scenes.

From the beginning, when dark, possibly leather-clad figures kneel round another figure before lifting it upwards into an arms-spread crucifixion image, then lower it slowly like a classical deposition, there is a sense of ritual that frames the individual naturalistic scenes. Each change of setting is made by the same black figures, smoothly removing or setting a chair or handing a small prop to an actor as they move across the stage. This all helps to make the formal, almost liturgical resolution of the play acceptable and uplifting. Does that sound portentous? This play is not. It deals with a serious subject but is leavened with humour and written with love.

Howard Loxton © 2004

Originally published on R&V on 21-04-04

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