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

Author:
: Barry Peters

Management:
: New End Theatre

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

Director:
: 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

It’s all for charity

On the night where the BBC concentrates on [raising money for Children in Need](http://www.bbc.co.uk/pudsey), time to celebrate children who are raising money for others…

To commemorate their school friend who was killed in a road accident earlier this year, pupils at Guisborough’s Laurence Jackson School initially raised £5,000 for the local air ambulance, and have now supplemented that with a further £1,000 by doing a sponsored swim in the North Sea.

I don’t know much more than that, other than what is in [this news story](http://ts14.gazettelive.co.uk/2009/11/pupils-raise-1000-for-great-north-air-ambulance-in-memory-of-joe-caven-norris.html). And that only came to my attention because one of the pupils presenting the cheque is my namesake, Scott Matthewman.

I don’t know him. If we’re related, we’ll be very distant relations indeed. But to even share a name with someone who’s doing such good work for charity is humbling.

If you’ve come to this site looking for someone who does good work, you’ve found the wrong Scott Matthewman. You don’t want me, you want the other one.

The dark side of Eurovision bloc voting

After years of the concept being stoked by commentator Terry Wogan, pretty much everyone in the UK believes that the contest has been hijacked by ‘bloc voting’, with all the East European states voting for their neighbours, effectively ensuring that the UK entry will always place near the bottom of the finals.

There’s an element of truth in there, although it does ignore that for the last several years few of the UK’s Eurovision entries have been worth voting for in the first place. A revised voting system, in which each country’s final votes were tallied from a mixture of phone voting and a jury made up of music industry professionals, helped the UK this year, even if the song itself wasn’t great.

But while we mock bloc voting, for some people voting for your neighbouring country’s songs actually has negative consequences:

Rovshan Nasirli, a young Eurovision fan living in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, says he was summoned this week to the country’s National Security Ministry – to explain why he had voted for Armenia during this year’s competition in May.

“They wanted an explanation for why I voted for Armenia. They said it was a matter of national security,” Nasirli said. “They were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, ‘You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?’ They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go.”

Hopefully that explanation will have included, “I couldn’t vote for Azerbaijan anyway, due to Eurovision rules – and what was I going to do, vote for that awful Lloyd Webber/Diane Warren number?”

The apparent sensitivity seems to be rooted in long-standing disputes over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Still, perhaps this can spur on the UK to keep improving its entries, so that people in high tension countries can choose us as a safer option?

Found via The Daily Dish

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.

What’s Wrong With Angry?

When does a drama that’s written about contemporary issues stop being about now, and start to be nostalgic? And once it’s nostalgic, how long until we become so detached that it becomes a historical piece that can talk to us about how we live today?

The answers to both questions are, of course, somewhat fluid, but they do give some indication of the two stools between which _What’s Wrong With Angry?_, the 1993 play which is currently being revived at the King’s Head in Islington, falls.

Patrick Wilde’s script revolves around two very different sixteen-year-old boys who both attend the same single-sex Catholic school. Steven Carter is fey, bullied and out to his best friend, Linda; John Westhead is the cocksure, laddish head boy who dates girls, but sneaks off for encounters with men and doesn’t really know where either head or heart is at.

So far, so familiar, if not even hackneyed. Although if you’re thinking the setup is remarkably similar to feature film _Get Real_, there’s a reason — the movie was based upon the play. And to be honest, if you’re going to spend an evening in the company of a script by Patrick Wilde, I’d choose the film over the theatre version.

Part of the problem is that there is too strong a desire to preserve the theatrical piece in aspic. When a director revives a production that he both wrote and directed on its original run, as in this case, it seems that fidelity to that production takes precedence over speaking to a present-day audience.

There are good points within the production: notably, the central performances from Oliver Jack and Christopher Birks and one or two of the supporting actors. However, Charlie Deans has been badly let down by being miscast as Linda. Steven’s best friend is described throughout as being fat, but Deans is bordering on petite. As if to compensate, Deans plays the role much larger than the tiny King’s Head can accommodate, often neutralising the realistic portrayals that Jack and Birks provide.

In addition, Nic Gilder as gay schoolteacher Simon, who cannot help Steven for fear of falling foul of Section 28, is the weakest element of the whole play. Not once does he connect with the script he’s given. We end up not with a portrayal of a man in torment, but a recitation of lines with no heart and no emotion.

After _Fucking Men_ and _Naked Boys Singing_, it appears that the King’s Head is trying to stake a claim as a venue for gay theatre. I haven’t seen either of those productions, but can only hope they are better than _What’s Wrong With Angry?_. And if it wants to enhance its reputation, its next gay production will be vital.

La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

No matter how brash, how funny, how camp La Cage aux Folles gets – and it is frequently all three at once – it is at its best in the moments of quiet, defined as they are by the freneticism that surround them.

Philip Quast, returning to the role of Georges that he held in this production’s original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is the quintessential light entertainment showman, running the Riviera’s best transvestite show bar and barely keeping the athletic dancers, the Cagelles, in check.

Georges’ home life provides the spur for the show’s plot, as his son Jean-Michel (Stuart Neal) tries to ‘straighten up’ his family in preparation for meeting his right wing prospective father in law. This means the enforced absence of Georges’ temperamental partner Albin, who is determined not to be sidelined quietly.

And it is Roger Allam’s performance as Albin that defines the dramatic shape of the show. His vocal performance, while it is not of the calibre of Quast’s, conveys the emotion of a man whose 20-year relationship risks being swept under the carpet. For all the sequins, feathers and mascara, the single element that defines La Cage aux Folles is a brief moment of stillness at the head of the show’s principal number, I Am What I Am. Allam is the master of the unspoken, and a single pause is simply heartbreaking.

The biggest laughs may come from Jason Pennycooke’s puckish servant Jacob, but the strength of the whole cast helps one overlook some of the weaker numbers and instead revel in a joyous, warm-hearted, still subversive comedy.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24371/la-cage-aux-folles)_

**Playhouse, London**, May 11-January 9
**Authors:** Jerry Herman (music and lyrics), Harvey Fierstein (book), based on the play by Jean Poiret
**Director:** Terry Johnson
**Producers:** Chocolate Factory Productions, Sonia Friedman Productions, David Ian Productions, The Ambassador Theatre Group, David Mirvish, Tulchin/Bartner, Jamie Hendry
**Cast includes:** Roger Allam, Philip Quast, Stuart Neal, Jason Pennycooke, Tracie Bennett, Alicia Davies
**Running time:** 2hr 45min