Above the Stag’s 3rd birthday party

For the third of my party collections to be featured in this week’s issue of The Stage (see also the Sheffied Crucible 40th birthday party and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas press night), I went to Above the Stag’s 3rd birthday party.

This theatre, established in a room above the Stag gay pub in Victoria, has established a reputation of hosting mostly gay, often musical productions that are usually highly enjoyable. Monday’s event saw a collection of monologues, short scenes and musical numbers from recent shows. Even those productions which didn’t work too well in full length could contribute something pithy, moving and/or funny to the mix, resulting in a highly enjoyable evening.

How the Daily Mail selectively quotes in order to lie about attitudes to gay people

From today’s Daily Mail:

Most people still oppose gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples, a Government report revealed yesterday.

More than half believe homosexual marriages should not be allowed and two thirds think the adoption of children by same-sex couples should not have become legal nine years ago.

Unfortunately for the Mail, perhaps, the Office for National Statistics’ Population Trends Autumn 2011 is available to the public. And within the section concerned, Civil Partnerships Five Years On, we see that the information around which the Mail has hooked its “Look, look, Britain’s as homophobic as we’ve been telling you” hat comes from two 2006 Eurobarometer survey questions, included for cross-Europe comparison but not collated by the ONS:

Eurobarometer is run by TNS Opinion and Social on behalf of the European Commission. In 2006 two questions were asked to around a thousand respondents from each of the EU25 countries25. Given the small sample sizes for each country the results can only be indicative of the main differences and general ordering of countries.

(My emphasis.) So the ONS explicitly warns against using the Eurobarometer survey results in the way that the Mail has done.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Just as we shouldn’t be surprised that the Mail has ignored other statistical information within the same report that shows that the proportion of the population that believes same-sex relationships to be wrong is substantially smaller than the proportion which doesn’t.

Update: Ruminations of an Englishman examines the original Eurobarometer and finds that while 45% disapproved of gay marriage, 46% actually agreed…

Meanwhile, the Pink Paper swallows the Daily Mail’s spin hook, line and sinker. They should be ashamed.

Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult

It’s a while since I’ve reviewed a book – unlike my theatre reviews, I don’t have a professional sideline in the field any more, and with writing about & watching a lot of television and radio as well as numerous theatre trips, my recreational reading is much less frequent than it has been, or should be.

I have, however, utilised the time I spend walking and/or commuting with a subscription to Audible.co.uk, which gives me a credit for one new audiobook every month. My most recent ‘purchase’ under this scheme has been Sing You Home by American author Jodi Picoult.

It’s the first of the author’s books I’ve either read or listened to, having been spurred on to investigate after seeing her do the rounds of UK daytime TV shows while I was off work ill last month. I’m glad I did, because it’s a fascinating literary look at some contemporary issues that, while maybe not bringing too much to the table for someone who’s been aware of (and at times immersed in) LGBT politics for years, demonstrate to a wider audience just what’s at stake in allowing gay and lesbian couples the same rights that straight couples automatically enjoy.

Continue reading “Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult”

Cleveland Street – the Musical, Above the Stag

I tend to want to be as generous as I can to any new musical that actually reaches the stage – so many, too many, never reach that stage. Once the house lights come down and the production has started, though, the quality of the book and the songs are what matters.

Here, Glenn Chandler, author of plays Boys of the Empire and Scouts in Bondage as well as the creator of ITV crime drama Taggart, has taken the real-life tale of a Victorian male brothel and the scandal of its high society clients and, with music by Matt Deveraux, has concocted a tale that’s redolent with period touches but has a tendency to subsume an interesting story under layers of exposition.

Continue reading “Cleveland Street – the Musical, Above the Stag”

A Rude Awakening, New End Theatre

An allegorical fantasy set in a far future where homosexuality has become the norm and straight people are barely tolerated as genetic freaks, what A Rude Awakening loses in subtlety it gains in some good performances and one or two killer one-liners.

Jonathan Woodward leads an able cast as the homophobic politician who, upon being revived in the far future, finds himself ostracised because of his heterosexuality. It is through his conviction that the early scenes, set in the present day, escape being regarded as a crudely drawn depiction of US politics in which even a gubernatorial candidate describes their part of America as “the South”.

The production is somewhat thrown off-kilter by video inserts which are by turns either preposterously surreal or hilariously comic. Sarah Wolff’s performance in the news parodies are especially noteworthy, but they sit oddly with the otherwise dramatic tone of the live performances.

Ultimately, though, Barry Peters’ first play is hamstrung by a lack of clarity of the satirical message he is attempting to convey. Rather than questioning modern-day prejudices, or even suggesting that a majority’s dominance over a minority is in itself the catalyst for bigotry, the impression the play leaves behind is that, whatever the century, you just can’t trust a politician.

* Reviewed for The Stage

: Barry Peters

: New End Theatre

: Genevieve Adam, Chris Barley, Sean Browne, Morgan Deare, James Le Feuvre, Lucy Newman-Williams, Sarah Wolff, Jonathan Woodward

: Olivia Rowe

Leslie Jordan: My Trip Down The Pink Carpet, Apollo Theatre

If the name Leslie Jordan isn’t familiar to you, the sight (and sound) of the American character actor may well be. Standing tall at 4’11” and with a characteristic Tennessee drawl, Jordan has played supporting roles on many TV series opposite actors including George Clooney and Mark Harmon, coming to greatest prominence with his Emmy award-winning role as closeted Republican Beverley Leslie in the sitcom Will and Grace.

Jordan’s tales of Hollywood struggle – being called upon to try and “butch up” and developing crushes on his leading men – could fill the whole of the show’s 1 hour 40 minutes, but would soon begin to pall. But there is a deeper story being told here: the attempt of one man to break free of his internalised homophobia, to overcome his alcohol and drug dependencies, to be able to stand tall and be comfortable in his own skin.

Jordan’s monologue is delivered in a cannily crafted, deceptively haphazard series of recollections and digressions. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ronnie Corbett’s monologues from The Two Ronnies, which appeared to be rambling, improvised whimsy but were in fact highly scripted and structured.

Jordan’s one man show grew out of a book tour to promote his memoir and toured small cabaret-style venues across America before crossing the Atlantic. I was concerned that opening the show out onto a West End stage might have robbed it of some of the intimacy it needs, but such thinking did not account for Jordan’s ability to hold an entire audience’s attention.

If there’s a downside, the inclusion of many gay pop “anthems”, while fun, on occasion did trample on some of Jordan’s anecdotal punchlines. But at the end of the evening, the entire audience was justifiably on its feet, applauding a man who may be short of stature, but who delivers a huge life lesson from which we can all learn.

Well done, Joe. Go, Clare. Naff off, AA Gill

Two stories about gay people in the media have made the front pages of the national newspapers today – and demonstrate generational differences in writers’ (and editors’ and readers’) attitudes to out gay people.

The first revolved around BBC presenter Clare Balding, who via her Twitter account (@clarebalding1) has been documenting her correspondence with the Sunday Times over some particularly puerile comments by its television critic, AA Gill, and editor John Witherow’s condescending reply to her objections.

Continue reading “Well done, Joe. Go, Clare. Naff off, AA Gill”

A Life in Three Acts

Now aged 70, gay actor Bette Bourne, gloriously bedecked in what he terms his “Golders Green drag”, delivers an inspirational evening as he recounts stories from his life in response to gentle prodding from Mark Ravenhill.

A condensed version of last year’s scripted conversations, originally spread over three nights, the structure does tend to hamstring Bourne’s tales of post-war Soho, discovering drag and the foundation of his ground-breaking Bloolips theatre company. Tales of his father’s violence sound flatter than they should when read from the page in front of him. Having Ravenhill’s offer of a tissue after a particularly harrowing recollection delivered as a scripted direction rather than a genuine moment of concern lends an unnecessarily manipulative air to a scene that deserves greater impact.

In his role as interviewer, Ravenhill does a good job of keeping the subject matter on track. His occasional dips into portrayals of other characters in Bourne’s life, however, are too brief and too scattered to work as intended, becoming instead unwelcome distractions.

It is when Bourne goes off-book, either staring wistfully into the distance or moving downstage to perform to his audience, that the evening comes alive. His determination, forthrightness and good humour come to the fore, keenly demonstrating why he is one of the few people truly deserving the epithet of ‘gay icon’.

A Life in Three Acts
Soho Theatre, London, until February 27, 2010
Authors: Bette Bourne, Mark Ravenhill
Producers: London Artists Projects, Soho Theatre
Cast: Bette Bourne, Mark Ravenhill
Running time: 1hr 50min

Reviewed for The Stage

Rauch on the realities of gay marriage in America

> Having just been told, at 3 a.m., that his partner of three decades might die within hours, Mike Brittenback was told something else: Before rushing to Bill’s side, he needed to collect and bring with him documents proving his medical power of attorney. This indignity, unheard-of in the world of heterosexual marriage, is a commonplace of American gay life. …
> … What happened in that hospital in Philadelphia for those six weeks was not just Mike and Bill’s business, a fact that is self-evident to any reasonable human being who hears the story. “Mike was making a medical decision at least once a day that would have serious consequences,” Bill told me. Who but a life partner would or could have done that? Who but a life partner will drop everything to provide constant care? Bill’s mother told me that if not for Mike, her son would have died. Faced with this reality, what kind of person, morally, simply turns away and offers silence?

The whole piece is at the National Journal Magazine website. Found via Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. And Rauch’s book, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, is a similarly excellent read.

Does the Daily Mail understand copyright law?

Earlier this week, my attention was drawn to a story on the Daily Mail’s website on the basis that it was unusual. And it is, for here’s a story about gay parents which makes no attempt to demonise them or suggest that the baby concerned is at risk in any way. For the Mail, that’s a big step forward.

Daily Mail story on gay surrogacy by Julie Moult

The story itself is quite a heart-warming one: a gay couple are now parents of a beautiful baby boy, thanks to one of the men’s sister, who acted as a surrogate.

It’s clear, though, that the couple did not approach the Mail with their story, but that the majority of the “investigation” has been conducted by reading Facebook pages of the people concerned.

> However, on his Facebook web page last week, Mr Sigston could not contain his excitement.
> ‘I am one happy Daddy – life is good, life is just where I want it,’ he wrote.
> Two weeks after the birth he posted a message to Mrs Bradley which read: ‘Still really can’t believe how one amazing gesture can change the course of your life. Thank you sooooo much – you know who you are!!!!!

Any attempts by the Mail to garner direct quotes resulted in people refusing to talk about this private matter with them:

> …’We’re not ready to talk about this at the moment.’…
> …A spokesman said it was a private matter on which they would not be commenting.
> Yesterday, Mrs Bradley said she was shocked the story had come to light and said she wanted time to think about whether to speak publicly. She said: ‘I need to consult my family, this has all come as a bit of a shock. There is a lot of us involved in it so we have all got to discuss it.’

That hasn’t stopped the Mail from publishing many photos, both of the happy parents and the sister who has helped them. Apart from one papped shot which is credited to freelance photographer Glenn Harvey, every other photograph on the page has the wording “© Facebook” attached.

Except that Facebook doesn’t own copyright on photos you submit to it – copyright remains with the people who took the photos. While there have been spats with Facebook over changes to their terms of service in recent times, the company has never attempted to claim copyright over what it terms “user content”. As with any other social networking website, you grant the site a licence to republish your content to your friends or other people, depending on your privacy settings. That doesn’t enable newspaper organisations to take those photos and republish them without your permission.

A quick look on Facebook now confirms that the three adults involved in this story have their privacy settings locked down so that only friends can see the pages from which this information has been lifted. Whether that was the case at the time the Mail lifted the story and the photographs, I can’t say. But whatever their privacy settings were, the Daily Mail had no right to use those photographs without permission — and from the quotes provided, it sounds unlikely that such permission would have been given.