At first glance Visible's production of Roundelay, written by Sonja Linden, directed by Anna Ledwich and currently on at the Southwark Playhouse, is not typical of the plays Jack The Lad has been putting his reviewers hat on for, it not ostensibly being a piece of LGBT theatre, although I was impressively surprised to find the theme not completely ignored either, it playing a part in one of the 7 interconnecting vignettes aiming to challenge society’s taboos about love and sex in the third age, and as such it’s themes are clearly universal, whether they be wrapped up in a straight, gay or a bisexual context. However, Roundelays touchstones were to be an altogether headier brew of dementia, divorce, bereavement, infidelity, seduction and sex.
“You know what they say, love makes the world go around. And sex of course – when you can get it”. These are the shows opening words from Clare Perkins sassy ‘Ringmistress’ our hostess for the evening in this circus of life, the play also being performed in the round as if in a big-top. This circus theme is returned to in the interludes between the various interconnecting stories, all of which Perkins introduces in an impressively commanding performance, her high heels and whip cracking all geared to bring an undercurrent of sex and scandal to the proceedings. That scandal is probably strongest in the fact that the play addresses both openly and honestly the subject matter at hand, as the vignettes themselves, whilst both raw and frank, are also actually both touching and poignant, never more so than with the character of Evelyn, played by Annie Firbank. Her story of life, loss and lust are moving and revelatory, played to perfection by the 84 year old actress.
I wouldn’t normally find it necessary to reveal an actor’s age as part of a review, but not to do so here would be to miss the point, as not only is the average age of the company the very thing that underpins the very heart of the play but also, founded in 2012 by writer Sonja Linden, Visible was created specifically to highlight issues of older age. If all this is sounding a little dry, then think again. There are some lighter moments peppered throughout, and the return of the Ringmistress between stories soon picks up the pace and shocks the senses. The three younger characters (Elan James as Daniel, Anna Simpson as Evie, Hattie and an Aerialist… this is a circus after all, and Ru Hamilton appearing as a multi-instrument playing Pierrot) produces a counterpoint to the scenes played between the companies elder members, serving as a reminder that when time is short, decisions need to be taken quicker, and opportunities grabbed with both hands.
Roundelay also has Movement Director Diane Alison-Mitchell on hand to weave some more choreographed pieces into the narrative, a stylistic approach I have previously seen utilised in a number of plays to great effect. Whilst it’s use here is a lot subtler than it was in Outbox Theatres ‘Affection’ at The Glory last year, it is a device when used well that can bring a much greater depth to the emotional currency of the character than just words alone, and indeed it is once again with Annie Firbank’s character, and her dance with a younger self, that really adds so much more to our perception of her relationship to the ageing process. “I so struggle with this bloody business of getting old” she declares at one point whilst almost seducing her much younger lodger, Daniel.
The whole cast bring incredible experience to their roles, and with it the stories that unfold have the power to move audiences of all ages, resonating with either their past, present or future. Only in one brief scene did the pace seem to drop momentarily, but otherwise Roundelay remained engaging, insightful and scandalous. It's 90 minutes well spent at the theatre.
If you are currently getting frustrated by going to see an endless stream of CGI stuffed franchise films, or are bored with binge watching countless box sets of a series that should never have really survived beyond a second season, then there has never been a better time to get yourself back into the theatre to check out some of the really cool independent productions that have been proliferating around London this year.
That’s not to take away from the seriously impressive screen credits previously notched up by the three leads starring in the UK premiere of Stephen Karam’s excellent Speech & Debate, most notably Revolori who played Zero the lobby boy alongside Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s Academy Award-nominated film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Actually this reviewers film of the year in 2014). The fact that all of this young, dynamic cast are seeking out theatre productions of the calibre on display here is just one indication that 2017 is definitely turning into a vintage year on the London stage, not only for these incredible independently produced plays, but also for a fresh wave of some intelligent queer theatre. Whether this was 2016 Tony Award winner Stephen Karams intention when he wrote the play is unknown, but this first class production is definitely one that we can’t recommend highly enough.
An incredible cast and the sharply written contemporary script (social media, podcasts and gay dating apps all driving the story along) means the 95 minutes flies by in this surprisingly funny play, effortlessly delivered through the comic timing of the three main leads under the strong direction of Tom Attenborough. At it’s core is a story of three misfit teenagers, brought together by a sex scandal in their school with nobody taking them seriously until they discover the truth about each others stories, and decide to speak out. Despite the ever present feeling that events could spiral into ever darker territory for Howie (Douglas Booth, seen here making his West End debut), Solomon (Tony Revolori) and Diwata (Patsy Ferran), the unraveling events are handled with a deft, light touch, keeping the action never anything less than thoroughly engaging and often hilarious right from the start. Charlotte Lucas also offers strong support in two smaller roles as Teacher and Reporter.
With an increasing trend in new theatre to have the stage already populated, with action taking place as the audience arrives, so it was that we find Booth under his duvet, busily texting on a gay dating app as we took to our seats. We become privy to his messages by the projection on the wall beside him, and through the reply of a surprise respondent the story begins to unfold. There is a real beauty in the pacing of all the characters revelations, continually bringing fresh depth and understanding to their individual motivations and agenda’s, brought together by the revelatory common cause that even gives the cast the opportunity to present an unforgettable song and dance number! (Yes.. really!)
Whilst we have nothing but praise for Booth and Revolori’s faultless performances, it is the wonderfully cast Patsy Ferran’s hilarious portrayal of Diwata that remains the most memorable. Her laid-back yet comedic delivery makes sure a laugh is secured at every turn, with the audience enamoured by her performance throughout.
Having since learnt that the play is to be made into a movie, it will be more than interesting to see how the play gets translated for the screen, but it is hard to imagine that a better cast or a stronger performance could be found, so do yourself a favour and make sure you get to see it at the theatre first.
It’s not often we can start a review by saying we’ve been underground to the Vault for an awesome night in the Pit! Hopefully, this will make more sense when I explain that the Pit is the performance space where Nathan Lucky Wood’s ‘A Haunting’ is currently playing, directed by Jennifer Davis as part of The Vault Festival in London.
With the action occurring during a Halloween eve, the musty atmosphere of the brick arched venue itself helped to amplify the palpable sense of trepidation that is in the air right from the start, the venue being quite literally located under the railway lines feeding London’s busy Waterloo Station. This stark venue reminded us of a concert seen last year in one of London Bridge’s bascule chambers deep under the Thames, and there is no underestimating the unique quality these unusual hidden performance spaces add to the occasion.
A Haunting starts with home alone Mark (played by Roly Botha) chilling out on his computer, online gaming against an anonymous stranger who he has never seen but has clearly been talking to for some time. It soon becomes apparent that all is not quite as innocent as it may seem, with both initially seeming to have intentions beyond the computer game play that seems to have brought them together. The ominous sense of foreboding increases as the mysterious stranger begins to manipulate the 15 year old Mark into agreeing to a physical meeting.
Definitely still very much on Jack The Lad’s ‘one’s to watch’ list, actor Roly Botha finds himself in the company of two equally impressive actors, much as he did for his stage debut in Tommy Murphy’s ‘Strangers In Between’ at The Kings Head Theatre earlier this year. Now in the superbly written ‘A Haunting’ (which also premiered at The Kings Head last year), Botha once again nails his portrait of a naive teenager who is both sexually confused and gets increasingly out of his depth as the mysterious events of the play unfold. This may not be a million miles from the character we last saw him play, but the occasional bursts of adolescent swagger being juxta-posed superbly with the characters more vulnerable and nervous qualities makes this a slightly less manic performance than previously seen, but equally well observed.
Jake Curran, the only surviving member of the original cast, reprises his role as the mysterious and unnerving Ghost, a character constantly teetering on a fine line between desperation, manipulation and vulnerability, all deftly played with a fluctuating sinister undercurrent. Izabella Urbanowicz also joins the company as Marks mother, playing her own characters emotional journey over the course of the play from cold, power dressing business woman to distraught mother in fear as much for her sons wellbeing as she is for her own apparent past to be revealed. It’s fair to say that all three actors deliver performances pitched perfectly as the play slips into ever more unexpected territory.
This is sharply written stuff by Nathan Lucky Wood, who delights in wrong footing the audience throughout, and what seemingly starts out as observations on privacy, internet grooming and trust soon takes the story into increasingly darker and more sinister places, and as the exquisitely layered strands of this play unfold, the audience in this sold out venue could not help but be anything other than completely captivated by the unnerving journey they were effortlessly being swept up in. Jennifer Davis’s direction is solid within the limitations of the venue, managing to create and connect the three locations in which this play takes place with style and ease.
Well… we definitely were not expecting the bar to be raised quite so high this early in the new year, but if this play is anything to go by then 2017 is shaping up to be something of a golden year for gay theatre, although officially this production of Australian playwright Tommy Murphy’s “Strangers in Between” actually had it’s British premiere at London’s Kings Head Theatre last year, (having originally been performed in Sydney, Australia back in 2005). Needless to say Jack The Lad deftly managed to avoid reading any detailed reviews from previous productions, preferring as always to come to the work fresh now that it has returned to the The Kings Head for a second run. A general impression that it was going to be good had managed to filter through, but we weren’t prepared for just how much we were going to enjoy this play.
Tommy Murphy’s dialogue is both delightfully uncontrived and lyrical, containing some hilariously juxta-posed lines that are made all the better for hearing it performed in it's intended native Australian accent. (Actually, one of the actors is not originally from Australia, but we will leave you to work out which… if you can!). This wonderfully observed dialogue is taken to new heights by the quality of it's delivery by the three actors, most noticeably by the superbly cast Roly Botha in the lead role as Shane, a small town boy alone and finding his feat in the big city. Whilst this may not sound like the most original premise for a slice of gay theatre, the devil is most definitely in the detail in this production, with both script and performances lifting this rights of passage play far beyond expectations.
Botha’s performance as the young protagonist is perfectly pitched, allowing himself to become completely consumed by his characters nervous, youthful energy, played here with palpable vulnerability that never once strays off into the realms of caricature, it being a much more sensitive portrayal with the power to have the audience both howling with laughter as well as breaking their hearts. Such was the total conviction of his performance that it put me in mind of a young Leanardo Di Caprio’s breakthrough performance in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’, equally mesmerisingly powerful in the conviction with which it was played and for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994. All of which leaves us thinking that Roly Botha is definitely a young actor to keep an eye on.
Superb performances were also delivered by the supporting cast of Stephen Connery-Brown as Peter, and Dan Hunter whose shoulders it fell on to play two characters in this production, those being Shane’s love interest Will, and in marked contrast he also plays Shane’s brother Ben, the latter giving Hunter a much wider emotional range to play with, managing to infuse the characters disturbing unpredictability with a vulnerability that gave the character impressive depth.
The scenes between Shane and the older, sometimes wiser Peter are also nothing short of a joy to watch, the contrast between Shane’s youthful naivety and Peter’s fifty year old matter-of-factness played out beautifully. Credit must clearly also go to Adam Spreadbury-Maher for his direction, keeping the audience fully engaged in the action throughout. An unexpected twist in the second act is skilfully handled as are the transitions between scenes.
No surprises then that this gets five stars from Jack The Lad, and couldn’t come more highly recommended.
Strangers In Between is at the Kings Head Theatre is 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN - 10th January and 4thth February
Photos: Andreas Grieger
We sincerely hope that the events that unravel in the small, seasonally decorated Staten Island apartment of Buddy Thomas’s The Crumple Zone (Clapham Omnibus until 23rd December – Pleasence Stage Space 27th-29thDecember) aren’t representative of the average festive season friends will be sharing across the country this year, although I am sure there will be a number of familiar touchstones in this play that the audience will relate to during this seasonal dark comedy in which Terry, Alex, Buck, Matt and Roger negotiate love, infidelity and friendship over an eventful Christmas, and as their various friendships and relationships get tested it becomes evident that their's is not necessarily going to be a season of good will to all men.
That said, there is plenty of humour here, most coming from the acid tongue of Terry, (played by Samuel Tucker) who hits the ground running from his very first appearance, dressed in only a pair of boxers and a T-Shirt, launching into a diatribe not only against Xmas, but the fact that his friend Buck (who he has a crush on), is having an affair with his roommate Alex, who is already involved in a long term, long distance relationship with actor boyfriend Matt. (Don't panic, these connections become much clearer as the play progresses). Terry also bemoans in his standard, hyperbolic way that he always feels on the periphery of the action, relegated to just a bit part in the soap opera of his own life!
Terry’s caustic tirades (of which there are many) hit fever pitch almost immediately, which unfortunately leaves little room for the character to develop too much over the duration of the play, almost having been taken as far as he can go within the first ten minutes. That’s not to say that Tucker doesn’t take ownership of the role and performs it with gusto, and being favoured with some of the scripts funniest one liners his performance is undoubtedly a strong one, if hampered only by the one dimension Terry seems to be allowed. It’s a problem that is apparent through much of the first half as the continuous verbal jousting between Terry, Buck, (played by Jack Armstrong) and Alex (played by Kit Loyd), is played for the most part in just one gear, that being ‘full-on’, although in fairness this production is billed as making “Big Brother look like Enid Blyton!”
Despite the arrival of Roger, Terry’s ‘pick-up', (played by Myles Rogerson) bringing a slight change of pace to the proceedings, it’s after the intermission that this play really seems to find it's stride, with the arrival of Alex’s boyfriend Matt (played by Tim Jennings). The development in the action allows the actors space to bring more light and shade to their characters, who have no other option than to confront each other and the consequences of their actions, making the performances and the drama feel more engaging.
Unfortunately just as this stronger second half was firing on all cylinders during the performance I attended, the play was brought to an abrupt halt when one of the actors was unfortunately taken unexpectedly ill, so there will definitely be no spoilers as to how the action resolves. That I was sufficiently invested in the production to want to return and find out how the situation plays out I hope is testament to the fact that, despite my misgivings in the first half, The Crumple Zone is definitely an enjoyable, if full-on look into the negotiations that make up modern gay friendships and relationships. Like a nineties adjunct to the hit 1960’s play The Boys In The Band, the claustrophobic confines of the apartment are palpable, with the well timed comedy bringing plenty of light relief to the plays darker strokes.
The Crumple Zone will be transferring to the Pleasance Stagespace between 27th and 29th December where I must confess I am very much looking forward to finding out how the play ends.
Last night I had my pantomime virginity well and truly plucked from me, having gone to see the Royal Vauxhall Taverns production of Charming Dick, written by Paul Emulsion Daly and currently playing at The Cockpit Theatre. Now, pay attention boys and girls because here comes the science bit… Charming Dick made it’s debut at the RVT last year, but having been seen by members of the aptly named Cockpit Theatre, (no, you couldn’t make this up!) a request was made for it to be ‘re-erected’ this year as a co-production, giving the Cockpit it’s own adult pantomime experience for the first time,… and adult this certainly is.
More ‘In-Your-End-Oh!’ than innuendo, the jokes come thick and fast, delivered by a brand new cast in a topically tweaked script. Director Tim McArthur takes on the role of Aunty Twanky ("the ’T’ is pronounced silently"), a more hirsute pantomime dame you are unlikely ever to see again, (and a vision that I guarantee will stick with you long after you leave the theatre!) All of the new cast are fantastic and commit themselves 100%, not only to the necessarily over the top characters they play but also to the long-standing traditions of panto. Needless to say, there’s audience participation a plenty. (“Oh no there isn’t!”) Oh… yes there is, but it doesn’t take long before most of the audiences inner child is set invigoratingly free, (aided no doubt by a few drinks at the bar beforehand), and in no time at all we are all shouting out our love for “Big Dick”! (Big Dick of course being the titular character played by Alistair Frederick!) The Wicked Witch is played to malevolent perfection by Matthew Floyd Jones, one half of British musical comedy double act Frisky and Mannish, with the dashing Stewart Briggs bringing his ‘A’ game to the role of Prince Charming and Abigail Carter-Simpson being worked to capacity in a number of roles, Red Riding Hood and Babe Woods being just two. A shout out also has to go to musical director Patrick Rufey for his solid musical accompaniment and cheeky ability to get in on the action too.
Charming Dick is actually a pantomime that gets deliciously ‘meta’ in places, and a few unscripted ad libs only add to the hilarity, for cast and audience alike! Despite not having seen this production at the RVT last year, it is hard to imagine it working quite as well as it did at The Cockpit Theatre, being performed ‘in the round’ and directed to make the best use of the space, despite the minimal stage dressing.
With this reviewer no longer able to claim to be a Pantomime virgin, my thoughts on the experience are that if I had seen this as a child I think I might have been scarred for life, but as an adult (allegedly) it is nothing short of a hilarious night out and comes highly recommended if you are in the mood for some smutty, irreverent and wickedly funny comedy and are able to give yourself up completely to this first class adult panto experience.
Charming Dick is on at London’s Cockpit Theatre until 23 December.
On Saturday 22nd October we got to see the very first performance of Patrick Cash’s latest play ‘The HIV Monologues’, exploring HIV amongst gay men through a series of interwoven stories. It is equally a very moving story about love, both lost and found, and of course sex.
The first night was a performance that very nearly didn’t happen, owing to the original venue having been flooded the night before. Luckily, and somewhat miraculously, a new venue was found the morning of the performance, and in true theatrical style the show did go on. With staging and lighting all needing to be re-imagined for the new venue, it’s a day I am sure the ensemble will not forget in a hurry, but if there was ever a case of ‘What you haven’t seen, you’d never know’, this was it. Whilst maybe not completely technically flawless, understandable under the circumstances, the production lost none of it’s impact as a result, and despite this last minute curve ball being thrown at cast and crew, all four actors achieve exceptionally powerful performances, bringing to life an incredibly moving and thought provoking script by Cash.
Having seen the critically acclaimed ‘The Chemesex Monologues’ when it returned for a second run to The Kings Head Theatre back in August, (see review), there was no doubting the skill of all involved, and indeed two of the actors from that play join the cast this time around. However, those familiar faces along with the return to the monologue format once again favoured to tell this story begged the question whether, given that we were somehow already in familiar territory, Cash and director Luke Davies could make this new production feel fresh, relevant and find something original to bring to the conversation around HIV. I am glad to say they succeeded on all counts, and through the different but eloquently interwoven experiences the four characters go through, the play manages to span the history of HIV and AIDS, from the eighties to the present day, with a script that deftly traverses not only this extensive timeline but also the gamut of emotions experienced by the actors in each monologue, managing to be both as humorous as it is incredibly moving.
Denholm Spurr returns, having played Nameless in ‘The Chemsex Monologues’ to play Alex, an actor in his early twenties who struggles in his extreme ignorance of HIV when his dream date Nick (Sean Hart) reveals he has recently been diagnosed with the virus. The wonderful Charly Flyte is also back, having played Fag Hag Cath in Cash’s previous play, this time playing a young Irish Catholic nurse, herself confronting HIV for the first time when she is charged to look after her first patient with Aids.
Whilst all three parts are played flawlessly, it is Jonathon Blake as Barney that both surprises and moves us during his appearance as a writer who lost his lover to Aids in the 1980’s. The resonance Blake brings to the role, himself being one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in the UK, is incredibly moving. (He was himself played by Dominic West in the film ‘Pride’). Blake gave up acting in 1981, a year before he was diagnosed, but appears here in what can only be described as a triumphant return to the stage. His delivery goes far beyond that of someone who has not acted for over thirty years, the audience hanging on to every word during his captivating performance.
Luke Davies does a great job directing once again, not only in the impressive way the story is passed from one character to the next, but also in the staging of Spurr and Hart’s final scene which, whilst almost breaking free of the monologue tradition, pulls the audience in to the very heart of their story.
For the flawless way Patrick Cash manages to both engage an audience as well as command their emotional responses with such dexterity throughout his writing, his work is something I shall continue to look forward to, whatever themes he decides to explore next.
There are two more chances to see The HIV Monologues during it’s present run on Thursday 27th & Friday 28th October at London’s Ace Hotel.
I must confess to not having known very much about 5 Guys Chillin’ prior to seeing it on it’s current run at The Kings Head Theatre in London. Surprising given that it first appeared at the Brighton Festival back in May 2015 before going on to enjoy successful runs in London, Dublin, Edinburgh and most recently New York. That said, it’s refreshing to come to a production without too many preconceptions and for this reason I avoided reading any of the original reviews prior to the performance. I had already guessed it wasn’t going to be a play about five guys sitting around having a bit of bawdy banter over a cup of coffee, which is clearly what at least one, still quite shocked member of the audience was expecting as I heard him tell his friend afterwards at the bar, adding that he thought the reference to “G” had initially been a shorthand reference for Gin! He couldn’t have been more wrong, this certainly not being a play for the feint hearted.
If your own knowledge of the whole ‘chill’ scene is equally as vague as the man at the bar’s, then be prepared for a rapid, intense, graphic and hard-hitting education. Whilst the five characters in the play do indeed chat to each other about their lives and previous party experiences, the substances they have come to rely on to fuel their evenings are much stronger than caffeine, and as the drugs take effect they talk, dance, kiss, have sex, swap partners, swap drugs, and repeat, with the audience being there right from the start to witness this hedonistic chem-fuelled chill-out unravel into something altogether darker. With the graphic nature of the conversation and the action being made all the more intense by the intimacy of the venue itself, this is just about as real and raw as theatre can get, although thankfully never allowing any of the action to seem gratuitous.
It’s a play that’s success ultimately hinges on the interplay between the five characters being believable. This I am glad to say it was from the start. Whether friends or strangers, (such being the very nature of the chill-out) the interaction between characters is played to perfection and as the fragile veneer of this hedonistic night begins to crack we are allowed to see a more intimate portrayal of both the characters and the chemsex scene itself which has for this group, and many groups like them, become the interaction and recreation of choice.
The conviction with which the interaction between the characters is played would have been of little surprise had the company of actors remained the same for the 17 months since the play first appeared, but it’s return to the Kings Head Theatre see’s only one of the original cast coming back, the superb Elliot Hadley reviving his role as ‘R”, one of the more demanding roles in the production and played to perfection. It’s a character that could have so easily crossed the line into caricature, but Hadley deftly avoids this, and with ‘R’ forming one half of the only couple at the chill-out alongside Ricky McFadden as his partner ‘B’, both skilfully reveal as much about their relationship in the use of their body language throughout as they do through the dialogue.
Already impressed by this strong cast, we discover that Stuart Birmingham who plays ‘J’, is not only the newest member of the ensemble but, having been brought in only five days before the opening night, had only clocked up 2 full days of rehearsals, making the incredibly well observed minutiae between the characters all the more impressive. Not that the play should be watched with these considerations in mind, and indeed there is no time to even consider them as both Birmingham and Cesare Scarpone, (as ‘M’) are already deep into the action as the audience takes it’s seats. It’s a bitter suite experience as we are initially swept up into a lifestyle being lived without any consideration of repercussion or consequence, but the laughs that come so freely during the first half of the play are slowly silenced with the realisation that the characters are not only surprisingly aware of the darker sides of their actions, but the fate of Adi Chugh’s character, ‘PJ’, particularly resonate given that his is a life we get the most insight into outside of the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere of this single set play.
Sharply written and directed by Peter Darney, he is keen to point out in the programme notes that as a piece of verbatim theatre there are no conclusions to be drawn or judgements to be made other than those brought to the piece by the audience themselves, a stance that serves this play well, and not lost in the discussions that will no doubt follow on from each performance of this play.
Having experienced 5 Guys Chillin’ so closely to the current production of The Boys In The Band, I couldn’t help but wonder that if Mart Crowley was to write his play today, whether this might have been the result, an uncomfortable comparison of just how much times have changed.
It seems like Jack The Lad is never out of the theatre these days, and last night was no exception as we paid our first visit to the space above the Arts Theatre in London’s West End to see a new play written by Rob Ward “Gypsy Queen”.
“Can two men raised to fight ever learn to love” is the intriguing strap line on the flyer that introduces us to the story of George O’Connell, also known as ‘Gorgeous George – The Gypsy King’, (played by Ward himself), a bare-knuckle fighter and traveller who enters the world of professional boxing where he meets equally cocksure (no pun intended) gay boxer Dane Samson (Ryan Clayton), an encounter that will have significant consequences on both their lives. It’s a story that gives Ward the opportunity to explore a number of themes, most notably those of coming out whilst simultaneously highlighting the ongoing homophobia that still exists in sport today. Indeed it was the real life homophobic comments by heavyweight champion Tyson Fury that apparently prompted Ward to revisit a shorter version of the play he had written in 2014, transforming it into this production of ‘Gypsy Queen’.
There is a lot to like about this play. The story is current and deals with situations and emotions that, if not already experienced by most gay men in some form or other, are certainly easy to relate to. This is done both dramatically and with plenty of humour, and the well written tight script pushes the action along at a fair pace.
The venue itself is an intimate space, and the few props that get used are done so to good effect. That said, given the sparse staging it felt like a bit more could have been done to help the audience through the transition to different locations with some slightly more inventive lighting and audio segues. There were some, but unfortunately any off-stage sound seemed played at an almost apologetic volume, doing little to help transport us from one location to the next.
What also took a bit of getting used to was the brave decision of having just the two actors take on the plays 7 characters between them. Whilst this worked well on the whole, and certainly kept the action moving, the necessity for Dane Samsons father to be played by both actors at different times in the play, as well as being a figure we had to imagine for the beginning of another scene, seemed one distraction too many whilst trying to adjust to the conveyor belt of character changes we were already being presented with. That said, both actors gave their all to each character, although it would be a push to suggest that Clayton was quite as convincing as Georges god-fearing Irish mother Rose as he was the muscular boxer Dane, the transformation relying on a Leopard skin jacket to try to conceal his not unimpressive physique.
Fortunately, Roses character is mainly played for laughs, and there are certainly plenty to be had here, but it’s equally impressive how everything gets reigned back for a number of the plays more touching moments, and it’s as George and Dane that the actors really find their stride, as we are taken through George’s journey of having to re-evaluate the macho bravado of both his traveller heritage and the sport that he adores, as well as dealing internally with the self-acceptance of his own sexuality. It’s these moments that really give this play its heart, being ultimately a love story at its core.
The 1970 film adaptation of ‘The Boys In The Band’ was made to faithfully commit to celluloid the off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley, that in it’s day was both ground breaking and highly successful. Unusually the film went as far as to cast the actors from the original theatre version to reprieve the roles they had made their own on stage. This latest revival, the first for 20 years, is also committed to faithfully recreating that same look and feel of the original play with incredible detail. It’s a strategy that means the production can, on occasion, feel slightly anachronistic for a contemporary audience in 2016, even though many of it's central themes remain timeless. By bringing a sense of context to the proceedings however, the relevance of this revival instantly makes a lot more sense, and as the lights in the auditorium dim and the sixties music that welcomed our arrival gets switched into high-speed rewind, we are transported back through the decades in an audio-visual vortex, back to 1968 where we are reminded just what a landmark production this was.
The story takes place in the New York apartment of Michael (Ian Hallard) who is hosting a party for Harold (Mark Gatiss) and, as his 7 friends gather, the proceedings get interrupted by the arrival of a cowboy hustler (Jack Derges), who has been paid for by the effete Emory (James Holmes) as a gift for Harold, as well as the arrival of Michaels ‘straight’ college friend Alan (John Hopkins).
That the play opens with a 16 minute two-hander between Michael and friend Donald (Daniel Boys) means the action takes a while to really find it’s stride. Understandably, for the audience watching in 1968, this initial open and frank conversation between two unapologetically gay characters on the mainstream theatre of the day would have been an unprecedented spectacle in itself, given that the original production hit the stage a year before the Stonewall riots and at a time when homosexuality had only been legalised in one American state. For them the references to three “pricks”, three “faggots”, two “queens”, three “screaming queens”, five “fairies”, one “queer”, one “masturbation”, two “cunts” and one “fuck-you” that pepper the initial conversation would have probably been enough to leave the assembled audience reeling. The passage of time has somewhat robbed the scene of much of it’s punch today however, and despite the opening interaction between Michael and Donald being skilfully handled by both actors, it’s not quite enough to save the scene from feeling the most hindered in terms of pace by the age of the play.
Everything changes however with the arrival of the wonderfully played Emory and the remaining entourage, and from this point the play crackles along. Harold’s own perfectly timed entrance into the proceedings just before the intermission is one of the plays more deliciously enjoyable moments, and provides Gatiss with yet another roll he seems almost destined to have played at some point in his career. The intermission does unfortunately interrupt Michaels slow transition from the amiable sober host of the first half to the cruel drunken protagonist he becomes in the second, but once there Hallard relishes in the opportunity to play the more vicious side of his characters nature, and does so with unnerving gusto.
It’s a play that will still probably divide audiences, gay and straight, as much now as it did back in the sixties, both for the archetypal portrayal of its characters and for some of its far from politically correct references, but this is ultimately a rewarding if somewhat bitter-sweet experience as when firing on all cylinders The Boys in the Band is hilariously funny, but the acerbic one liners as the characters gradually begin to turn on each other add an uncomfortable albeit compelling darkness to the proceedings. There is much still to be found for a modern audience to connect with in this production helped along in no small measure by the incredible ensemble, all of who are superbly cast.
The Boys In The Band **** Park Theatre, 28 September - 30 October (production photo's: Darren Bell)
Knowing that I was going to see 'Affection', a new devised play about bodies, intimacy and HIV (playing at The Glory until 24th September) a friend declared, “Is that really what we (the gay community) need, another play about HIV? There must be other stories to tell!” Think of that comment what you will, but I am sure his will not have been a lone voice of dissent upon hearing the subject matter Outbox Theatres director Ben Buratta has chosen to address with this latest production, his rationale being that with the rate of Londoners contracting HIV in 2016 rising dramatically and the NHS’s refusal to fund PrEP making headline news, this was actually the perfect time to reinvigorate the conversation around HIV in a contemporary and thoroughly engaging way which, I am glad to say, is exactly what he has achieved here.
The play begins by filling the room with an erratic, pulsating beat, it’s punching rhythms reflected by the twisting, convulsing movements of the eight strong ensemble lined up against the back wall of the stage. Credit goes to Movement Director Coral Messam here, whose various choreographed interludes both mesmerise and unnerve in equal measure with their energy and their imagery.
It very quickly becomes clear that this is not a play in the conventional sense, as these movement pieces continue to be peppered throughout a number of superbly written and skilfully acted self contained vignette pieces, a risky strategy given that no individual scene seemed to last any longer than 5 minutes, but due to the skill of the very tight script (Jodi Gray) and superb acting throughout, the audience is able to engage immediately with the characters in each story, the narrative of which we are thrown into the heart of with minimal exposition. On the whole these scenarios felt fresh and current, none moreso than one of Jack McMahon’s characters vlogging his way through a life led with HIV, that also surprisingly providing some of the biggest laugh out loud moments, of which there are several. Jack was also in part responsible for one of the plays most emotional moments in a scene he plays near the end with Gavin Duff, both actors and audience alike ending the scene with tears in their eyes. It would be wrong however to single any of the actors out as all shone in this production, as much in their commitment to their characters as to the stories they were telling, the result no doubt of the play having been built around the company's research and own improvisations during the early stages of putting 'Affection' together.
Only one of the scene’s felt weaker by comparison to the others, this being due in part to the familiarity of the situation and the feeling it had been seen in other plays before, but this feeling of slipping into the familiar was short lived, and on the whole 'Affection' felt original, innovative and highly watchable. As incredibly engaging as the scenes were on the whole, this was not a play whose ambition was to draw conclusions, be they moral, political or emotional, and neither was it meant to be, the director having declared from the outset his desire to create a piece that would spark further conversation. This it definitely will.
As an interesting side note, having spent a day in rehearsals with the company, (see Jack The Lad, issue 07), none of the pieces I saw being devised on that day made it into the final show, something I think shows just how challenging the process of devised theatre is, and how committed the vision of the director and cast needed to be in producing a work that ends up being as refreshingly original as 'Affection'.
In late August 2016 Jack The Lad had the privilege of being invited for a rare glimpse behind the scenes as Outbox Theatre rehearsed their latest production 'Affection', performed in London at The Glory (13th - 24th September) and in Birmingham @A. E. Harris (30th Sep - 01 Oct). Outbox Theatre have been producing devised theatre with a company of all LGBT performers for six years, it’s aim being to focus on “Telling the forgotten and unheard stories of the LGBT community”. The ambition for this latest piece is to reinvigorate the debate around the subject of HIV, their flyer proclaiming that “Based on real-life stories, ‘Affection’ is not a victim piece. It is raw, funny and honest… because it’s about time that we had another conversation about HIV”.
Turning this into an engaging piece of theatre is an intriguing process to observe as, under the guiding hand of founder and artistic director Ben Burrata, it is the actors themselves that take ownership of creating the work, their improvised scenes being the catalyst for the group discussions and further development which will eventually be transformed into a final script by Jodi Gray. Ben say’s his intention “isn’t so much to educate people, but perhaps more to plant the seeds of ideas that will hopefully get discussed further in the pub after the play”. Jack The Lad joined rehearsals on day 9, excited to see a part of the process still in it’s early stages. “During the first week of rehearsal we’re really just exploring ideas as a company as we become more informed about living with HIV”, explains Ben. “We had a social worker come in, we had a few guys who were living with HIV come and talk to us, so it was all very much about research. This week is about taking those ideas and making them into something more dramatic”.
With the improvisation stage now fully underway, the process of seeing what does and doesn’t work in context of the final production begins. It can be a process that demands a lot of it’s actors, not only in it’s requirement for them to bring a lot of emotional and personal parts of themselves to the rehearsal process, but they also have to acknowledge that some of the improvised scene’s they bring to the room will, by the very nature of the process, get rejected along the way. “I think you have to be thicker skinned with devised theatre than if you are working with a script” says Josh Enright, one of the actors in ‘Affection’, “because everything you are creating is coming from you. It’s your ideas, your physicality, your words and your improvisations… but inevitably stuff will get cut and sometimes it can be a piece you were really happy with which unfortunately doesn’t fit with the overall tone of the production”. It’s a part of the process Josh is now comfortable with though. “At the end of the day we are a company. We’re not just individual actors working on our specific roles, we’re a company creating a whole piece together, which is what I love about it”.
Josh was part of the company for it's very first production six years ago, but for many of the actors involved in ‘Affection’, this will be their first time working with Outbox. Getting the company to bond during these early stages of production is an important part of the process. “It’s very rare to have a completely LGBT company”, says director Ben, “and i think there is something about that which is immediately bonding. There’s something so rare and so special about gay actors being all together in a room and being allowed to express their identity through their own work.“ It’s an observation confirmed by Elijah W Harris, a trans actor working with OutBox for the first time. “I feel like I’ve known these guys for a couple of months already”, he says. “It all got very intense very quickly, but people need to hear and see these stories and feel they are being represented”. That intensity comes hand in hand with the subject matter they are exploring as a group, and it’s down to Ben to facilitate ways in which the actors can feel comfortable and safe within the space, as well as confident enough to bring their very best work to the rehearsal room. “Whilst the actors may not be living with HIV themselves, they’ve often had experiences of that scene, whether that be the chemsex scene or the experience’s of people that they know living with HIV, and they bring all those experiences to the piece”.
It is the ability to tap into such a diverse range of experiences that highlights the power of devised theatre, which Josh believes will ultimately result in producing a much more engaging piece. “What we are creating is essentially our responses to these ideas… to people’s words, to bodies, to intimacy, to HIV… and it’s our responses, not only as an actor but personally as well, that bring’s out a lot more creativity than if we just had a play given to us with prescribed feelings and scenarios”. ‘Affection’ promises to be a fascinating production that see’s Outbox Theatre continuing to live up to their original ambitions, which producer Yasmin Zadeh summarises as “bringing people in the room who are comfortable with their sexuality, comfortable to talk about their experiences and basically make a show that is relevant and honest about what it means to be to be LGBT today”.
Tickets are available from Outbox Theatre
There are more pictures from the Outbox Theatre rehearsal rooms in Jack The Lad issue 7 - Available Oct 1st
It feels like I have been witnessing some kind of gay theatre tag team lately, as it seems Denholm Spurr is not the only young actor hot-footing it across London at the moment to appear in multiple stand-out productions at the same time, as we were tonight surprised to find Richard Watkins, (appearing alongside Denholm in The Chemsex Monologues), turning up on stage at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, to appear in Ronnie Larson's somewhat lengthily titled “Do You Have A Secret Crush? (Sleeping With Straight Men)”.
This play is based on the true story of a young gay man, here renamed Stanley (Chris Britton) whose instant obsession with a straight waiter, Lee (Richard Watkins) compels him to contact a New York chat show for an appearance that will have severe consequences for both, as Stanley decides to reveal his secret crush to an unsuspecting Lee in front of a studio audience on The Jill Johnson Show. (The name of the play being derived from the episodes trashy, tabloid title).
Given the nature of my last minute booking to see this show, I was initially unaware that the play was taking its dramatic cues from this real life event, and I must confess that my heart sank just a little when I started to recognise the story, purely because I was really enjoying the initial relationship between Sally, the small town drag artist (Dave Lynn) and Stanley (Chris Britton). Chris plays his part with a flirtatious, camp gusto that sometimes teeters on the edge of caricature, but thankfully manages to stay on the right side of the line for the most part . Sally becomes Stanley’s confidant with who he shares his dreams of leaving his trailer park home in Pontiac, Michigan, to become famous and fall in love. This for me was by far the strongest character pairing throughout the play, which I could have easily continued to watch as their relationship unfolded, both characters being played at their best when in each others company.
However, I soon began to recognise the story from headlines back in 1995, and now becoming aware of where the plot was heading, I was glad that the strong direction (Robert McWhir) and inventive, albeit relatively sparse staging skilfully prevented the narrative from being played out in a straightforward linear fashion. The audience were taken on a journey from the small town “Flamingo” club to the bright lights of the big city TV studio, and we became part of the action itself as the the fourth wall was broken several times, initially by Dave Lynn in glorious, full-on cabaret mode, and secondly as the theatre transformed itself into the TV studio for the recording of The Jill Johnson Show itself. Whilst this wasn’t trying to be an immersive theatrical experience, it was a clever and engaging device that was used to great effect, as we all eagerly played our part by clapping and hollering on the chat show host’s cue.
Whilst at these moments the play felt inventive, with some interesting split stage techniques and creative lighting (Richard Lambert) that helped transport us from location to location, there were some issues, most notably with the sound. There’s no denying that the great use of some classic pop songs peppered throughout helped transport us back in time, (even if it did seem to take us back to the mid eighties, a decade before the actual events took place), but the music did, on occasion, linger in the background just a bit to long, resulting in it being more of a distraction from the main action instead of enhancing it. Tragically, the use of music seemed to be at it’s most unnecessary during the final scene, and swamped what could have otherwise been an exceptionally emotional moment, the drama of which was left to Dave Lynn to salvage with his poignant rendition of “Rise Like A Phoenix”, (again, not in keeping with the era we had been taken to, but movingly performed all the same). Another pivotal scene that seemed to fall just short of its full dramatic potential was Stanley’s seduction of Lee, the dialogue of which these two talented actors couldn’t quite wrestle back from it's brief slump into porn film style awkwardness... albeit one from the nineties). Lee’s real life counterpart was eventually found to have mental health and drug issues, and I think it would have been interesting to have given Richard Watkins a little bit more of this dark side to play with from the start, adding another layer to his character and increasing the sense of impending and inevitable jeopardy throughout.
If all that sounds a bit too serious for an enjoyable night at the theatre, then think again. There is plenty to enjoy here, with the first three quarters of the play being played very much for laughs. Dave Lynn gives a fantastic performance as Sally, both in and out of drag, and both Ruth Peterson as Jill Johnson and Helen Stirling as Stanley’s Mum are superbly cast in their roles. It is however Louie Westwood as Brian, the make-up artist and costume supervisor on The Jill Johnson Show, that manages to steal the stage from the sidelines whenever he appears, providing some of the biggest laughs of the night with some immaculate comic timing. Unfortunately there are only two days left of this production at the time of writing, but given that this is the third time this play has been produced in London, you just never know… there may be a chance to see it yet.
Is this the end of my theatrical tag team experience? Only time will tell! ****
What a difference a week makes as we head back to the London borough of Islington to find Denholm Spurr once again acting his socks (and his top) off in this seemingly one man mission to play all the pub theatres in the area… at the same time! He is still half way through his run in ‘The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor”, (See earlier review), but for the rest of this week he will be making a 10 minute dash along Upper Street, after his final bow at The Old Red Lion Theatre, (and burning 44 calories in the process, according to Citymapper), to take up his roll as 'Nameless' in Pat Cash’s ‘The Chemsex Monolgues’ directed by Luke Davies. (Playing until 20th August at The Kings Head Theatre) Just How many parts this talented young actor can actually hold in his head at the same time remains to be seen, but from what we saw on Monday night, Denholm had no problem in casting one character off in favour of the other as he took his place amongst this shows impressive quartet of actors.
As the title suggests, ‘The Chemsex Monologues' is about the use of drugs and group sex that has increasingly become synonymous with a darker side to gay nightlife, the playwright’s ambition here being “to concentrate on the humanity of the characters in this world’. Needless to say, there are both intense and thought provoking scenes throughout each of the four characters fantastically delivered monologues, but these are deftly intertwined with a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud lines, showing the skill this playwright has to take the audience so sharply from one emotion to the other without missing a beat. The words of this tightly written script would of course be nothing without a level of acting to match, and all four actors are both convincing and absorbing in their parts… no mean feat given the sparseness of the staging in this intimate theatre, with only a single chair as a prop. It would be remiss of me not to report here that it was Charly Flyte’s stand out performance as ‘Fag Hag Cath’ that was deservedly rewarded with a spontaneous round of applause at the conclusion of her piece. That’s not to say that Denholm Spurr and Richard Watkins delivered anything but incredibly strong performances of their own, and Matthew Hodson was wonderfully engaging as 'Daniel the Sexual Health Worker’, (a part no doubt familiar to him through his real life roll as CEO of GMFA, the gay men’s sexual health charity), playing Daniel's fall into the world of Chemsex with some wonderfully observed nuanced moments. Naturally there is a lot to mull over having left the theatre, the subject matter being dealt with frankly, honestly and openly, but at the same time it also managed to be an enjoyable theatrical experience.
A shout out also has to go to the lighting designer Richard Desmond who's career, we were somewhat amused to read in his program notes, had started by “lighting gay leather bars in the 1980’s”. With so little in terms of scenery and staging to set the stories locations in, it was down to the very subtle but effective changes in the lighting to take us from one scene to the next, as well as to set a variety of tones and moods throughout the play, which worked incredibly well.
All in all, (and with just the bar staff being literally the only people left to thank in this review), 'The Chemsex Monologues' is a perfect example of sharp writing, great acting and good directing in the absence of complicated staging. Go see this if you possibly can and whilst you have the chance!
The general consensus seemed to be that all was not well with this production, however I took my seat in the intimate surroundings of the Old Red Lion Theatre with as much positivity as I could muster and an eagerness to uncover some dramatic nugget that other reviewers might possibly have missed. Unfortunately the play still failed to deliver, or ultimately engage, despite having at it’s disposal much that could have produced a much deeper and thought provoking piece. The effects of privilege, class, sexuality and growing old were all present and screaming to be explored in greater depth, but this autobiographical piece seemed more content to meander whimsically through a series of scenes almost as an exercise in nostalgia from the author himself, reminiscing on his own life and relationship with his uncle, Stephen Tennant, one of London’s bright young things, both of who were transposed here into the characters of Joshua (Jojo Macori) and Uncle Napier (Bernard O’Sullivan).
That Simon Blow is possibly either to close to the story, or has explored it too many times (he has also written a book on the subject) might explain why he is unable to put enough distance between himself and the material in order to extract the maximum dramatic potential from the events. The director, Jeffrey Mayhew also seemed unable to wrestle the script into a more poignant piece. This isn’t to say it wasn’t without it’s moments, and it’s few pithy one liners were gratefully received by the audience, however on the whole the dialogue lacked rhythm and conviction.
It was the young leads, Jojo Macori as Joshua and Denholm Spurr as Damien that really gave their all to the material they had been given. Jojo played his character with a spiky, nervous energy, at times awkward and even uncomfortable to watch as he wrestled with his class straddling relationship, being manoeuvred out of his inheritance, and visitations from the spirit world, which itself felt inconsistent and underplayed as a dramatic device.
It was Denholm Spurr however who seemed the most comfortable in his characters skin though, and whilst wondering how close his character might have been to the actors own personality, he gave an equally spirited performance when doubling up as French sailor Jean Baptiste in the opening scene of the second half, that lifted the play momentarily with a much needed dramatic change of pace, containing the only real point of emotional poignancy for this member of the audience.
With much of the action centred around the effete elder Uncle Napier, who had chosen to languish away his remaining years recalling stories of his youth from a permanent state of recline on his chaise lounge, the dialogue would have really needed to be a lot sharper on both the page and on the stage in order to compensate for the lack of visual drama, which unfortunately it never quite managed to do. Whilst the play ultimately failed to live up to the sum of it’s parts, the two young leads are definitely actors to keep an eye on, and I look forward to seeing what they choose to tackle next.
Runs until 27th August at the Old Red Lion Theatre.
Photos: Pamela Raith
Who knew that the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden had so much disco potential? Well clearly Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe did, as the Pet Shop Boys took a four day residency at this impressive venue for their Inner Sanctum show.
To the introductory opening chords of West End Girls, a track frequently reserved for the encore, two giant orbs rotated to reveal our favourite pop protagonists ensconced within. The crowd's reaction was immediate and euphoric, as everyone took to their feet with an explosion of applause! Pop music’s finest duo were back, not that they have ever been far from the industries front line, being one of the few bands that emerged in the eighties to remain consistently original and relevant to the ever changing music scene that surrounded them, and tonight they were ready to claim their place in pop's pantheon once again!
The Pet Shop Boys might have won the Outstanding Contribution To Music award at the 2009 Brit Awards, but if tonight proved anything, it was that their contribution to the conversation of contemporary music is far from over. Given this career longevity of 30 years and still going strong, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a large percentage of the audience were fans of a certain age for who the duo have provided the soundtrack to their lives, and as such it would have been so easy for the evening to have slipped into an exercise in nostalgia. Both band and audience had different plans however and, having paid respect to the song that kick started their career, they immediately fast forwarded 30 years to deliver Pop Kids from this years Super album, making it clear right from the start that this was not going to be a greatest hits show, even if their back catalogue of 42 Top 30 singles is a legacy most bands could only ever dream of plundering. This unconventional tactic could have left a vacuum in a show that had clearly been consciously designed to focus on the latter half of the PSB’s career, but the fact that none of the unplayed hits were particularly missed only further proves that the art of writing instant classic crowd-pleasing pop hits hasn’t left Messrs Tennant and Lowe. The occasional nod to a few of their older classics like Se A Vida E and It’s A Sin (and a slightly unusual placed Home and Dry) were peppered throughout the show, just in case we were in danger of forgetting just how long the Pet Shop Boys have been part of our collected psyche.
The venue itself all seemed very Pet Shop Boys, and must have pleased those reviewers who like to see everything that they have ever done or said as being somehow a statement in irony, especially given that this was the tour showcasing two of their most club orientated albums to date, 2013’s Electric and this years Super, but as Neil pointed out in one of his brief exchanges with the audience, pre-war the venue had been used as a dance hall, and he called upon the 2,000 fans that packed this sell out show to help return the venue to this former glory and to the sounds of the UK’s finest purveyors of pop, we all happily obliged.
Neil's exchanges with the audience have always felt few and far between, his reticence to wax lyrical between songs maybe due in part to the years they declared that the Pet Shop Boys would never tour, but tonight was about the music, and the brevity of the interruptions provided the opportunity for some lush seamless segues between songs. The show was a tour de force with both Neil and Chris seemingly loving every minute of it. “You are better than last nights audience” Neil declared in slightly vaudevillian fashion, and despite it being a line most of us would have heard on numerous occasions at other gigs, the atmosphere in the auditorium was such that on this occasion, more than just wanting to believe it was true - we did believe it was true! “Only slightly though!” Neil immediately qualifies, in a very Pet Shop Boys fashion.
“Here’s a new version of an old song”, we were informed before a clubbed up It’s Alright kept the room dancing. This he repeated before a rousing rendition of Go West, which to be honest didn’t sound all that different from how I remembered it, and to this pop kid’s ears is a track that has become to the Pet Shop Boys what Dancing Queen became to Abba… a sure fire crowd pleaser that suffers slightly from it’s over familiarity. However, by this time the stage had filled with dozens of dancers, anonymous in their inflated sumo-style body suits, the staccato movement of their militaristic dance moves (choreographed by stage director Lynne Page) making the track as much of spectacle as anything that had gone before.
Neil Tennant seemed genuinely taken aback by both the volume and duration of the applause that followed The Sodom and Gomorrah Show from 2006’s Fundamental album, (and a definite show high point of the evening). Chris also seemed ever so slightly more animated than usual behind his keyboard, clearly enjoying the opportunity to bring the PSB’s more club orientated disco to the stage. Creatively directed by Es Devlin, the full-on use of lasers further helped transform this rather grand and austere setting into the best nightclub in town at which, for four nights only, we all had the chance to become Pop Kids!
The Pet Shop Boys return to the UK with their six city Super Tour in February, based on these incredible Royal Opera House shows, so check out their website and make sure you get your ticket for this incredible show!
|words and pictures: simon j. webb|
We grabbed performance artist Daren Pritchard for a chat way back in 2015, just as he was about to embark on his debut solo performance with his show "In Bad Taste". We're delighted to see he's back on stage on Thursday 30th June, this time at London's Royal Vauxhall Tavern which see's the return of seminal performance platform,'UnderConstruction'. Jack The Lad will of course be there to see if he delivers on his promise of taking "a satirical look at male body image and the gay community using spoken word, song and a touch of flesh". There's certainly a touch of flesh and a whole load of words in his Jack The Lad feature, so if you can't get down to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, then why not grab yourself a copy of issue 2 for yourselves. All back issues are available from our online shop, but only whilst stocks last.
Some #WednsedayWords from our interview with Roo, who's show 'Are You Sitting Comfortably' can be heard midday every Saturday on ELR Radio. See what goes on behind the scenes when Jack The Lad camera's caught Roo in action as he presented his old student radio show 'Hump Night'.
This #ThrowbackThursday we revisit our shoot with issue 2 cover guy Joshua Moore, shot exclusively for Jack The Lad by UK based photographer Simon J Webb. If you haven't seen all the stunning images from this fantastic photo feature yet, then you should get yourself a copy of this back issue from our online shop whilst stocks last. Be warned...once they've gone, they've gone for good!
Some #WednsedayWords from our awesome interview with Wayne Dhesi, the founder of LGBT charity support website rucomingout.com You can find the full interview in Issue 5, our biggest edition yet, packed with 126 pages of top quality photo's, art and conversation.
Available for digital download from the Apple App Store, Google Play, Pocketmags and Amazon Kindle. The deluxe limited edition print version is still available from selected London retailers, or worldwide from our online shop.
> come for the pictures, stay for the stories.
How would you feel if you woke up in a hospital, having been in a coma for three weeks, only to discover that you have lost all memory of the last 4000 days? Such is the dilemma facing Alistair McGowan’s character, Michael, in this play by Peter Quilter, and directed by Matt Aston at The Park Theatre, Finsbury Park.
It is not only Michael we find struggling to make sense of having eleven years missing from his life. His mother Carol, (Maggie Ollerenshaw), who has kept a vigil by her son’s bedside, is asked on her son’s awakening why she is suddenly looking so old, given his last recollection of her is from over a decade ago, whilst his boyfriend Paul, (Daniel Weyman), despite having lived with Michael in a committed relationship for the last 10 years, now finds himself completely erased from Michael's consciousness as he desperately tries to bring back memories of their life together through a mixture of old newspapers and personal photographs. His mother recognises an opportunity to reclaim some long lost influence over her son’s life however, whilst simultaneously filling an emotional gap in her own, and doesn't hold back in pointing out some of the more negative aspects of the relationship her son had with Paul.
Set entirely in Michael's hospital room, the play tells the story very much through this jostling for emotional supremacy, a dramatic opportunity possibly being lost by not fleshing out the occasional nod's given towards how much world affairs have changed in Michaels eleven lost years. There is still plenty of food for thought in this witty yet thought provoking three-hander though, not least of which comes from seeing McGowan’s character being given the opportunity to reboot his life, mentally returning to a more creatively fulfilling time as a painter, blissfully unaware of the life choices he has made in the intervening years, choices that would appear themselves not to have been made entirely without the influence of those around him.
Due to Michael's condition and the ultimate freedom it appears to have brought him, all the characters are eventually forced to analyse their own life choices over the last decade, with a few cutting home truths being fired as mother and boyfriend find themselves battling to influence Michael's decision making process once again.
We couldn't help but think this an interesting choice of character for Alistair McGowan to choose to play, as whilst he is engaging as the initially bemused and confused Michael, it is more the performances given in the struggle between his boyfriend and his mother that provides the real energy of the play, with Ollerenshaw particularly producing a deliciously well observed, acerbic performance as the sharp tounged, domineering waspish mother. There's no denying that McGowan has a great face for playing bemused and confused so well, but it unfortunately leaves a character which he seems unable to do to much with, at times leaving him, along with the audience, sitting back to watch as the strongest lines get deftly delivered during the interactions between Ollerenshaw and Weyman.
4000 days is a play that probably finds as much audience engagement in the asking of the age old question “What would you do if you had your time again?” as it does for being an enjoyable, if fairly undemanding play. That said, at 1hr 50mins, the play is never less than entertaining and is yet another perfect excuse to spend an evening at the wonderful Park Theatre.
4000 Days is on at The Park Theatre from 14 January to 13 February - For more information go here
London can sometimes seem like a soul less grey metropolis, especially for those living, working and commuting here on a daily basis, but at other times it can come alive as it bursts with a sense of celebration, sound and colour, making it briefly feel more like the very centre of the universe. These times usually coincide with an artistic, sporting or cultural event of which there are woefully to few. The Olympics was a biggie, a Royal Jubilee usually gets the crowds out on the streets, and even Gay Pride brings with it a rare sense of harmony and unification across different parts of the capital. This winter however, a new event came along that literally brought light to the long dark winter nights, as the first Lumiere London came to town which for four nights transformed the capitals most iconic streets with over 30 impressive installations, produced by some of the world’s most exiting artists working with light. From Kings Cross to Westminster Abbey there were over 30 light sculptures, projections and installations to discover, which 1000’s of people armed with their well produced maps came out into the cold to do, criss-crossing the city in awe of the spectacle and originality of the pieces they were presented with. Whilst this review obviously comes far to late in the day for anyone who missed this awesome event, it will hopefully serve as an advance warning that if Lumiere London returns next January, be sure to have it in you diary. This free event is definitely one worth hitting the streets for.
Happy New Year, and what better way to get 2016 started than by announcing today's release of Jack The Lad - Issue 4! Hangover's be damned, we have once again packed the 100 pages with awesome images and in depth interviews.
If you are already following us on any of our social media platforms, (we can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as jacktheladmag), you will have noticed that we have been running a number of festive themed images throughout December as part of our ongoing Dare To Be Different promotional campaign. These brand new images featured models old and new, some of which you will have recognised and others have yet to appear between the covers of the magazine, but rest assured we will be taking great delight in introducing you to the newbies throughout 2016. It's going to be a great year and we can't wait to get it started. In the meantime enjoy this compilation of those images, and have yourselves a very merry christmas!
We have just added two new prints to our exclusive range of limited edition artwork, this time featuring Joshua from Issue 2. Only 50 copies will ever be made at this size, (25 framed and 25 unframed) which are available from the Original Art page. Why not go and bag yourself one of these awesome prints today.
When Russell T. Davies made one of the main characters in 1999's "Queer As Folk" a Dr Who obsessive, it suddenly became cool for gay men everywhere to embrace their inner geek, and helped many of us come out of the Sci-Fi closet! Since then, not only has our love affair of all things Sci-Fi and fantasy increased, but the quality of the genre has, on the whole, improved dramatically, rewarding us all for staying loyal to an art form that had historically delivered some truly terrible SFX. With all the dodgy green screen, wobbly sets & rubber monsters we had to endure... CGI seemed a long time coming, but one franchise made prior to the CGI explosion, (and ironically ruined by it), will forever have a special place in the hearts of Sci Fi lovers everywhere. George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy was without a doubt a game changer, and whilst we wait with fevered anticipation for a whole new chapter of the Star Wars franchise to start, the timing couldn't be better to be reminded of some of the iconic imagery we fell in love with the first time around.
The sun was shining for our trip to the seaside, and after an absence of several years we were back at Brighton for their 25th anniversary Pride celebrations. It didn't take us long to remember what a special and unique atmosphere this popular pride event has!
Jack The Lad found himself back at the wonderful Park Theatre in Finsbury Park last night to see “Positive”, a new play by Shaun Kitchener (who also appears as Matt).
It’s central character, 26 year old Benji (perfectly played by Timothy George), is still coming to terms with his HIV diagnosis one year before the plays story begins, but he is finally allowing himself to start dating again having previously chosen to shutdown his personal life by way of avoiding the stigma, prejudice and rejection he fears he might encounter. This is not typically the subject matter that would suggest such an enjoyable night out at the theatre, and there have been plays before that have taken an altogether darker journey through similar territory, but Shaun Kitchener has decided to make the Positive of the title as much about the up beat atmosphere of the play as it is about the diagnosis Benji has received, and what we are treated to is a warm, heart felt, laugh out loud comedy that always manages to stay respectful of its subject matter.
It is little short of incredible, given it’s perfectly pitched tone and well observed characters, that this is in fact Shaun Kitcheners first full length play, and that the dialogue in this wonderfully tight script could take the audience from a moment of highly charged drama to a moment of pure comedy with the delivery of a single line. With writing that effortlessly traverses these opposing emotions with such dexterity, and at such an early stage in his career, there are hopefully many great things yet to come from this talented young playwright.
Praise of course must also go to the rest of the cast who, under Harry Burtons direction, managed to bring such nuanced performances to the stage in a number of stand out scenes. Herein lies our only criticism of the night though, which is that given the play was performed in the round there were times we were unable to see a characters facial response to a line or a piece of action, and as such felt we were missing out slightly on yet another moment of marvellously judged acting.
That said, on the whole the simple staging was effective, and the sympathetic lighting design transported us effortlessly between Benji’s flat, a nightclub and the clinic. We, as usual, intentionally avoided other reviews prior to going to see the play, which meant we were unaware of the plot development that started the second half, the drive of which meant the play was never going to suffer the curse of the post intermission lull. This development provides the framework on which the narrative is built to a crescendo, once again a tour-de-force in bouncing the audience’s emotions between intense drama and high comedy. In less skilful hands the action at this point, which involved every member of the cast at some stage of the proceedings, could have slipped into the territory of mere traditional farce, but it was again dealt with such well judged dramatic precision that we are never left anything other than completely engaged with the complexity of the emotions that come with this sensitive subject.
To leave such a play with a smile on our face, and a life affirming glow in our heart was totally not the response we were expecting to be walking out with. In short, we can’t recommend this play highly enough, and if you still have the chance we suggest you beg, borrow or steal tickets for the final performances.
Jack The Lad’s preference for entertainment in an intimate venue is the stuff of legend, (well, it is in this office anyway) which is just as well, as any party held in London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern that achieves a sold-out capacity crowd is going to push the love of intimate spaces to the limit, but a capacity crowd is exactly what the RUComingOut summer party deservedly got, and everyone was more than ready to party the night away, creating an atmosphere that was never anything less than celebratory.
RUComingOut.com is an open resource website to help inspire, support and unite gay people, young and old, who might still be coming to terms with their sexuality, or who are possibly just afraid of the repercussions that coming out might have on their lives, whether that be with family, friends or work colleagues. The site does this by offering plenty of reassuring testimonials from those that have already been on the journey and have gone on to live happy, fulfilling and successful lives.
It’s unsure how many of the crowd at last nights event might have been helped by the website, (although it’s unlikely to have been any of the hardcore female Joe McElderry fans that had staked their claim on prime positions at the very front of the stage), but it’s safe to assume that many of those attending will have had their own coming out stories to tell, and the websites founder Wayne Dhesi told of his own experiences that led up to him starting the website back in 2012. His story, along with the amazing atmosphere that filled the RVT all night, was a testament in itself that it does indeed get better!
The event was a fund raising night, and in true Royal Vauxhall Tavern tradition, an evening of variety and entertainment followed. Given the establishments long association with drag shows, it seemed only right that the fabulous Drag With No Name was on hand to make her own inaugural appearance, being a self proclaimed RVT virgin! She raised the roof, ending a number of hilarious musical impressions with a knock out Ed Sheeran parody! Joe McElderry followed (cue front row screaming fans) reminding us what a mighty fine pair of lungs he has on him, as he delivered a pitch perfect performance to wow the crowd. It was a miracle he wasn’t singing falsetto given the unfeasibly tight looking jeans he was wearing, (no doubt to his fans unparalleled delight), but Joe nailed a dynamic performance in spite of any restrictions, which might have well included the exceptionally small RVT stage, but his was a performance which, for sheer energy and delivery alone, matched any that might have been given by a young George Michael at the peek of his career! A more recent X-Factor contestant, Andrea Faustini followed to also blow the crowd away with his own style of vocal power, albeit during a less dynamic visual performance.
Any fears that the energy levels might drop as a result of the 15 minute break that followed were soon dispelled when the stage curtains were drawn back to reveal Gabrielle with a two piece acoustic backing band and two backing singers, who performed their way through a number of reworked hits that had the crowd singing along to every chorus right from the start! I’m sure Gabrielle didn’t really mean it when she expressed a wish to take us all with her everywhere.., that would be quite an undertaking, and not one for the feint hearted, but the gesture was appreciated and reciprocated by an audience who had played their own part in making an evening that this Jack The Lad thinks will be remembered for quite some time by the organisers, the performers and the audience alike!
Now, if we could just convince the RUComingOut team to have a winter party, all would be sweet!
It wasn’t so long ago that Jack The Lad was enjoying the rich live sounds of C. Duncan at The Great Escape music festival in Brighton. Back then there were only a handful of single releases as musical clues to the delights that might be waiting for us on this talented multi-instrumentalists debut album. These first audio encounters were already enough for us to predict that we were unlikely to be left disappointed, and with the album finally being released on July 17th, we found ourselves back watching C. Duncan and his band play live once more, this time at The Lexington near London’s Kings Cross Station. All the band seemed in good spirits despite having been darting around the country on a promotional frenzy, and were more than ready to finally be able to expand the set to showcase the previously unheard material. As a result, gone was their rather classy version of the Cocteau Twins classic track “Pearly Dewdrops' Drops”, but perhaps more shockingly, a drummer was included in the line up for the first time, (who we think did a first rate job in adapting the digital drums, clicks, riffs and rim shots of the studio recordings to the live environment). Following two support acts, the lads hit the stage at 10pm in front of a rather lagered up audience. The musical step change, along with the inclusion of the new songs meant things took a little while to resonate fully with the audience who, with each song, were adjusting to the more laid back groove of C. Duncan from what had just gone before. Won over they most definitely were though, and by the time Chris, Finlay and Lluis were singing a beautiful 3 part harmony to a lone acoustic guitar for the encore, the audience were well and truly mesmerised, and The Lexington was as quiet as a library in full appreciation of what had been a fantastic first outing for the new album. We are sure there are equally exciting things to come from Chris Duncan in the future, but for now we are more than happy to immerse ourselves in the lush dreamlike soundscapes of “Architect”. (And there we were hoping not to use the word “dreamlike” in this review! Sorry guys, we just couldn't help it!)
A #ThrowbackThursday image of one of our favourite models Ryan. He was prepared to get completely drenched in order to make some stunning images for his fantastic photo feature that appeared in issue 1. Not seen it yet? Well its still available to buy from our online shop
The sensational new Issue has arrived! More pages, sensational print quality, more pictures! You won't want to miss it!
Jack The Lad joined more than 1 million people in central London on Saturday 27th June for the cities biggest one day event, and one of the world's biggest LGBT+ celebrations, Pride in London. The sun was shining and everyone was more than ready to party as the parade started to wind it's way through the streets of central London, from Baker Street to Trafalgar Square, where the main entertainment stage hosted a variety of comedy, cabaret and music to entertain a lively capacity crowd! What is now largely seen as a day of celebration, a mood that was heightened this year by coming just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalised gay marriage across America, their are still those mourning the transition of the event from the political protest it was in the 80's and 90's. Political commentator Owen Jones is one such voice questioning the relevance of a pride without politics, choosing to ask "what's gone wrong?" instead of maybe questioning what's changed? Indeed, the United Kingdom of 2015 is a very different place for the LGBT community than it was 30 years ago, and maybe the images from a day of celebration, posted on social media and seen by the rest of the world, are not completely without message themselves. Indeed, the images from this years event showcase a country largely coming to terms with diversity and the LGBT struggle for equality. These were in stark contrast to those images seen less than a week later from Turkey, as heavy handed riot police took to the streets with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas in order to break up this years Pride march in Istanbul! This is obviously a clear reminder that there is much to be done on behalf of the LGBT global community, and our fight for equal rights around the world is far from over. As such Owen Jones is of course right to remind us that the LGBT community shouldn't get complacent about the success's it has achieved to date, but Jack The Lad still thinks that celebrating those success's already made can be as potent a message in the continued fight for those rights as anything else, and hopes that both party, pride, and politics can continue to send a collaborative message from the UK and it's Pride events for years to come.
We've just added a new collectable print of Jerome to the Art Shop, available as both framed or unframed options it is, of course, a limited edition and not previously seen in the magazine.
Jack The Lad checked out C Duncan at The Great Escape music festival in Brighton this weekend, and though they were performing at one of the less atmospheric venues on offer that day, (and looking slightly at odds with the daytime clubland surroundings they found themselves in), nothing could diminish the quality of C Duncans songwriting skills, and the goose-bump inducing melodies that left the audience applauding for more. A long time has passed since "Hand in Glove" (see previous blog), but the thrill of discovering an incredible new band remains the same! Check them out if you get the chance!
It's a bit difficult to do a #ThrowbackThursday when Jack The Lad has only been out for 15 days, so we have decided to create #OuttakeFriday - shots from the sessions with the models that there just wasn't room for in the mag! This is our first issues cover model Jerome, always sexy, although here looking just a little bit confused! Oh yes, We are already loving #OuttakeFriday!!! Don't forget, there are plenty of awesome shots of Jerome in the magazine, so don't forget to pick up a copy before it sells out! Numbers of this launch issue are limited!
It's not every day a record comes a long that changes the game forever. 32 years ago today an unknown band called The Smiths released their very first single and did just that. The cover alone makes it a worthy entry into the Jack The Lad Hall of Fame, but the song also spoke out to many jack the lads across the land! Back then music singles were released on very collectable 7 inch vinyl - Today, Jack The Lad comes as an equally collectable 7 inch square magazine....Just saying!
Have you got your hands on issue 1 yet? Read our awesome interview with internet radio sensation Roo as he talks Hump Night, getting kicked off YouTube & amusing sex toys!! You won't want to miss it! Get your copy from Prowler Soho, Gays The Word or direct to your door via the website today!
We've added two new prints to our exclusive range of limited edition artwork, this time featuring Ryan from Issue 1. Only 50 copies will ever be made at this size, and it is available both framed or unframed from the Art Shop. Bag yourself on before they go.
There's some fantastic pictures to be seen from menart photographer Graham Martin, as he turns his camera on this dynamic duo for a special feature in the first edition of Jack The Lad! It's not all suits and boots during this sensational shoot, but when models Alan Barton and Stuart Hatton Jnr. are looking this good all dressed up to the nines, the rest of the images should definitely not be missed!
Check out selfie loving Brayden as he talks instagram, creme eggs, Zac Efron, underwear and hashtags in issue 1 of Jack The Lad! Of course there are also some sensational images from his exclusive shoot with us to! You can get your copy now from Prowler Soho & Gays The Word in the UK, or direct to your door via this website.
Launch day has finally arrived, and Jack The Lad has finally come out for all to see! The pre-sale buzz has been amazing, and there is some amazing talent lined up already for future issues, but the journey starts here, and we wouldn't want you missing any of the hot pictures and cool interviews that fill the pages of issue one! Be sure to check it out! You can either buy it directly from the website, or from Prowler Soho and Gays The Word if you live in London, UK. If not we will gladly ship it to your door! We hope you'll enjoy getting your hands on Jack!
The champagne is ready to pop with less than 1 day to go until Jack The Lad is officially launched, although rumour has it that it is already on the shelves of Prowler Soho and Gays The Word, but shhhh, don't tell anyone until tomorrow!
Jack The Lad spent a great night at the theatre seeing Dylan Costello's "The Glass Protégé" at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. An awesome play set in the Hollywoodland of 1949, showing the impact that a scandalous gay love affair has on a young British actor and his famous male co-star, the consequences of which are still being felt forty years later, long after the might of the studio system during Hollywoods golden age has turned against them.
We think Jack The Lad cover star Jerome is rocking the suited and booted look, although it looks like he can't wait to get out of it! Don't miss his stunning pictorial in issue 1!
Less than one week to go realness! There's no stopping Jack now! - don't forget to go follow our Facebook page whilst your waiting - www.facebook.com/jacktheladmag
Couldn't be happier to announce this World Book Day that the awesome Gays The Word book shop will be stocking Jack The Lad from it's release date of May 1st. Yet another way you can get your hands on Jack!
Box fresh and ready for May 1st - have you reserved your copy yet?
There's only 12 days to wait before you can finally get your hands on Jack The Lad! Issue One includes a profile of photographer Graham Martin, featuring some stunning images from his shoot with Alan Barton and Stuart Hatton Jr.!
25 Days and Counting!! The wonderful, but rather wet Ryan from Issue 1's photo feature Still Waters Run
And so it begins....
Now reaching the final stages of development, Jack The Lad is now being reformatted for it's exciting new dimensions of 7 inches x 7 inches! Bigger, bolder, better but still with enough character to make it stand out from the crowd! We hope you will agree that those extra inches will make the whole experience one you have been waiting for.