The top 5 gay musicals… that aren’t

As someone who used to work in online LGBT news media, and who now works in theatrical media, Pink Paper’s “Top 5 gay West End musicals” article piqued my interest for multiple reasons when it turned up on Twitter.

Unfortunately, it’s so riddled with errors that it’s almost laughable.

The West End has never had so much competition attracting tourists as the capital has become the place to be this summer.

Rather than give up, the industry has pulled out all the stops to entice eager theatre fans, and it seems they have followed the advice of theatre producer Max Bialystock, following the manta: “whatever you do on the stage, keep it snappy, keep it happy, keep it gay!”.

Unfortunately, while that quote does indeed come from The Producers, where Max Bialystock and business Leo Bloom attempt to create an über-camp pro-Nazi musical with the hope of fleecing their investors, the line quoted comes from the director they hire, Roger De Bris, and not Bialystock.

And if West End producers really were following the “manta” [sic], surely all five musicals would be gay, or gay-themed? Instead, only one of the five could be said to be gay-themed – and it’s neither a musical nor in the West End.

Continue reading “The top 5 gay musicals… that aren’t”

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”

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”

Busted Jesus Comix

Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/26128/busted-jesus-comix)

Above the Stag, London
November 3-28
Author: David Johnston
Director: Prav Menon-Johansson
Producer: Above the Stag
Cast: Henry Blake, Erin Hunter, Caitlin Birley, Peter Halpin, James Morrison-Corley, Michael James-Cox, Rege Page
Running time: 1hr

Based on the real life trial and conviction of an underground comic book writer, David Johnston’s pitch-black comedy acts as an indictment of censorship, while never quite focusing clearly enough to land any killer blows.

Henry Blake as Marco in Busted Jesus Comix Structured as a series of flashbacks, Marco, played by Henry Blake, relives the events which led to his conviction on obscenity charges and the authorities’ attempts to out him on the straight and narrow that have more to do with justice being seen to be done than offering him the help he really needs.

Some of the more sinister elements of Marco’s treatment, including compulsory enrolment in a Christian ‘ex-gay’ mission aiming to cure him of his homosexuality, are played with broader comedic strokes than one might expect. Caitlin Birley’s psychiatrist is similarly played out as a larger than life, grandstanding figure, more interested in her theories than actually listening to her client. It’s not an unsuccessful approach by any means, but provides a variation of mood and tempo that doesn’t always work in the production’s favour.

Levity is abandoned for the finale, in which the otherwise buttoned-down Marco finally opens up about events hinted at throughout. The impression one is left with is of a satisfying, thought-provoking play.

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.

Gates of Gold

Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/14995/gates-of-gold)

Trafalgar Studios 2, London
Author: Frank McGuinness
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Producer: Charm Offensive
Cast: William Gaunt, Paul Freeman, Michelle Fairley, Josie Kidd, Ben Lambert
Running time: 1hr 25mins (no interval)

It is somehow appropriate that in presenting a fictionalised version of Irish theatrical couple Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir, Frank McGuinness presents us with a troupe of characters who are often unable to distinguish fact from fiction in their own lives.

William Gaunt, as frail actor Gabriel in his last days, dominates the stage. Through his bickering with uptight partner Conrad (Paul Freeman), we glimpse a relationship that has survived through love but not without bitterness and resentment. Michelle Fairley refuses to let Gabriel’s nurse, Alma, to be drawn as either saint or angel of mercy. Her confrontation with Gabriel’s nephew Ryan (an occasionally over-stiff Ben Lambert) leaves us no wiser as to whether she intends to hasten her charge’s departure.

Indeed, throughout the play it is hard for both characters and audience to establish what is fact and what is reality. This mostly works, although Gaunt’s soliloquy about what it was like to be blackmailed for being openly gay loses its impact under such a structure. The faults, though, are outweighed by the conclusion, with a dying Gabriel in his partner’s arms, calling out for one final fantasy. Conrad’s resulting speech – “Two men met. They had a marriage. It lasted” – has nothing untrue about it and brings to an end a remarkable evening of theatre.

Review: Beautiful Thing, Sound Theatre

Jonathan Harvey’s urban gay fairytale remains his best and funniest theatrical work to date and is further enhanced by this confident production.

As the 15-year-old neighbours whose friendship turns into full-blown love, the doe-eyed intelligence of Jonathan Bailey’s Jamie works perfectly alongside Gavin Brocker’s sport-obsessed Ste. Both actors provide a depth to the relationship far deeper than the dialogue would otherwise suggest.

They are eclipsed though by the female leads. Michelle Terry plays the Mama Cass-obsessed neighbour Leah as unlikable as she can, ensuring that the second act switch of character, where she becomes the ultimate in loyal friends, works flawlessly. Sparks fly between her and Jamie’s mother Sandra, the ultimate heart of the piece, whom Carli Norris plays with pitch-perfect ferocity and tenderness throughout.

In support, Steven Meo does well to lift hippy artist Tony out of the caricature he is painted on the page, forming a well-rounded and sympathetic outsider whose chilled out approach to problem solving saves the day when all about him are reduced to verbal and physical battery.

This production is likely to be the Sound Theatre’s last, before the bulldozers move in this autumn to replace it with a soulless hotel complex. In addition to the starlit finale on stage, Beautiful Thing creates the ultimate in happy endings for its venue as well.

This review first appeared in the August 3, 2006 issue of **The Stage**

July 19-September 9
Author: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Tony Frow
Producer: NML Productions
Cast: Jonathan Bailey, Gavin Brocker, Steven Meo, Carli Norris, Michelle Terry
Running time: 1hr 40mins

Civil partnerships: the fight’s not over

A plain language summary of the issues contained within the Government’s white paper on civil partnerships for same-sex partners. The consultation paper went on to form the basis of the Civil Partnerships Act, which came into law in 2005. Written for Gay.com UK.

It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like we’re finally on the road to having legally recognised relationships between gay or lesbian couples.

The Government’s Women and Equality Unit, part of the Department of Trade and Industry, today unveiled its white paper, **Civil Partnership: A framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples**. The consultation document outlines how the Government sees gay and lesbian couples’ rights being safeguarded and extended until they match those of married straight couples.

Under the proposals, which will affect England and Wales (with some knock-on effects in Scotland and Northern Ireland), couples would have to sign a civil partnership register, to be kept and maintained by the same council register offices that currently handle marriages. The bad news for anybody who’s signed one of the non-legally binding registers local councils have instigated around the country is that you’ll have to go through it all again: none of these registers will automatically get promoted to legal status. Which is a good thing, as there are so many rights and responsibilities attached to partnerships that we shouldn’t assume everybody who wanted to sign a decorative piece of paper would be happy signing one with strings attached. For those that do, however, there’ll be another license fee to pay.

The full document stretches to nearly 90 pages, and covers most of the common areas that we think of when discussing the disparities between married, straight couples and gay couples. But it also dispels some of the myths. For all the talk about ‘next-of-kin’ rights, particularly when one partner is taken ill, there is no such thing as the ‘next of kin’ in law. The paper notes that this causes much confusion, both for patients, their relatives and hospital staff. The Government are going to ensure guidance notes to NHS staff take account of same-sex relationships, but that’s not something that has to wait for a change in the law to take place.

Another issue the paper tackles head-on are people’s concerns that unmarried opposite-sex couples also have concerns over their own rights (the common perception of “common law”, like that of next of kin, being false). Quite correctly, in my view, it believes that the needs of unmarried couples, regardless of gender, are an entirely separate legal issue.

Whether it’s prison visiting rights, parental responsibility, or your rights should your partner die, basically if it’s available automatically to married couples, it will also be available to registered couples. The similarities extend to break-ups — dissolution of a civil partnership could end up as costly, both financially and emotionally, as divorce, and in exactly the same ways.

Indeed, most of the ramifications of a civil partnership scheme boil down to the same thing: money. If you and partner register your relationship, the state will assume that you pool your incomes and calculate benefit entitlements accordingly – just as they do for straight couples who marry.

One major difference will be in state pensions. Everything about this area of the law moves incredibly slowly. At the moment, current pension law is some of the most sexist legislation we have, dating back to the times when the husband went out and earned the pennies, while the wife stayed at home sprouting kids and cooking everybody’s dinner. Thankfully, that’s changing, but it means that gay and lesbian registered couples will only start achieving parity with married partners in 2010, with full equality across the board only achieved once state retirement ages equalise between men and women in 2020.

To all intents and purposes, the state will recognise you for what you probably already regard yourself – a family. Indeed, it’s incredibly gratifying to read the statement: **”The Government proposes that registered partners should be treated as a single family unit.”** None of this “pretended family relationship” nonsense that Section 28 tried to saddle us with: we’re real, we’re families. And about time, too.

* Originally published on [Gay.com UK](http://uk.gay.com/)

Ta-ra Tara, hello homophobia?

After the producers of cult TV hit Buffy The Vampire Slayer killed off a recurring character who was also an out lesbian, this article examined the accusations of homophobia aimed at a show which was historically regarded as being gay-friendly. Written for Gay.com UK.

In the US (and, in a few weeks’ time, on Sky One here in the UK), Buffy: The Vampire Slayer will be hanging up the stakes and garlic for the last time, as the series reaches the end of its seven-year run. It’s generally perceived as going out on a high, with its final season garnering much critical acclaim. US site PlanetOut.com described it as “the gayest show on television”, and is picking out a fetching funeral outfit for the final episode later this month.

For UK terrestrial viewers, though, who are one year behind, the series is coming to the end of a much more difficult batch of episodes.

The sixth season of Buffy was a tortuous period in the series’ history. On screen, Buffy Summers was brought back from the dead by her friends, who later discovered they’d not rescued her from hell, but wrenched her from heaven. Rupert Giles gave up sunny California for his native rain-drenched West Country England. Xander and Anya bored everyone with their marriage plans for most of the season, before it all ended in tears at the altar with not a single vow exchanged. But most heinous of all, Tara Maclay – beautiful, shy, funny, bewitching, lesbian Tara – was killed.

It was that last action that many fans found hard to take. Amber Benson’s character, introduced a season and a half earlier, had become an instant favourite since her first appearance in the near-silent episode, _Hush_. Not initially conceived as a lesbian character, the chemistry between Benson and Alyson Hannigan as Willow was so electric from their very first scene together that the characters were soon an on-screen item. Willow’s growing discovery of her own sexuality, her coming out to both ex-boyfriend Oz and her larger group of friends, was handled deftly and sensitively in a manner that earned production company Mutant Enemy much praise.

As Willow and Tara’s relationship blossomed throughout the series’ fifth season, Amber and Alyson became the American darlings of the gay press. Any criticism of the series’ handling of the relationship was mild, and aimed at the sometimes comedic presentation of Willow’s coming out (in _Triangle_, she herself describes her orientation as “gay now”, while a robot replica of Buffy summarised the character’s sexuality in an on-screen caption as `GAY: 1999-PRESENT`). Generally, most people were simply happy that two regular characters in the same show could not only both be gay, but be shown having a loving, intimate and sexually charged relationship. In American television, Willow and Tara were unique.

Even in the troubled season six, the couple were still setting the screen alight, despite fractures in the relationship based on Willow’s over-reliance on magic. In the much-vaunted musical episode _Once More, With Feeling_ (available on [DVD](http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008N6ZH/thislitheunoffig), (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000070WPE/thislitheunoffig), [script book](http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743467973/thislitheunoffig) and probably tea-towel by the time you read this), Tara sings the standout song of the episode, I’m Under Your Spell, about how bewitched she is by her girlfriend (ironically, unaware that she really _is_ bewitched, as Willow has cast a spell to ensure her girlfriend does not remember an argument they had the previous episode). The song ends with Tara floating over the couple’s double bed in what seems to be orgasmic delight. The top of Willow’s head can be seen doing something further down Tara’s body – it doesn’t take much to guess what.

As Willow’s deception is uncovered, the couple break up, and stay apart for the rest of the season. In the episode _Seeing Red_ (to be broadcast today, 8 May, on BBC2 at 6:45pm), the couple finally reconcile and spend pretty much all of the episode making up for lost time in bed. In the last few minutes, though, a stray bullet aimed at someone else fells Tara at her girlfriend’s feet.

That fans of the show, of the character and of the actress were upset at Tara’s death comes as no surprise. That the upset spilled over into anger and fury aimed at the show’s makers, though, took producers Mutant Enemy completely by surprise. But was it justified?

Tara’s death can certainly be justified dramatically. It propels Willow down a very dark path in her grief that shapes the concluding episodes of the season, and sends her character on an arc that continues until the series’ end a year later. In terms of character development, it can also be argued that Tara didn’t have anywhere else to go. Apart from one spell gone awry in season five, she was practically perfect in every way – acting as a surrogate mother not only for Buffy’s sister, Dawn, when she was left without anyone else to look after her, but also for the rest of the gang. And while that sort of emotional stability is something that most of us hope for in real life, in terms of television drama it becomes stale very easily.

While the series’ previous big death, that of Buffy’s mother Joyce, had been far more emotionally charged a year previously, the fact that Tara was gay threw the situation into a much more complex light. As author Keith Topping, writer of the critically acclaimed Slayer series of episode guides, noted, “the amount of Internet bandwidth used to discuss the possible subtexts surrounding Tara’s death… could have filled Wembley Stadium.”

In a series of blunt and frank essays, the first of which is entitled [It’s Not Homophobia, But That Doesn’t Make It Right](http://www.xtreme-gaming.com/theotherside/homophobia.html), former television writer Robert A Black argued that to kill off one of the only lesbian characters on television, only for the surviving partner to go on a homicidal rampage, conjured “images of the many dead and evil lesbian characters that have appeared on American TV and movie screens before. For Mutant Enemy to have placed these images on the screen and not expected viewers to hearken back to the homophobic stories of the past is as naïve as if they had placed a swastika on the screen and expected the viewers to think it signified good luck.”

Even critics such as Black acknowledge that the course of Tara and Willow’s relationship had, up until that point, been incredibly positive for the gay community as a whole. “Today, there are several gay and lesbian characters on American TV, but none of them are in a steady long-running relationship,” he wrote. “The fact that Willow and Tara were together was what made them unique. The relationship was greater than the two characters individually, because together they gave the gay community something it could find nowhere else.”

Topping agrees. “Willow and Tara, whether by accident or design, have been positive role models to gay people everywhere,” he writes in [Slayer: The Next Generation](http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0753507382/thislitheunoffig), which covers Season Six and the fallout over the character’s death in some detail. “They’ve shown that you don’t have to hide your sexuality or to be an outsider, that ridicule and homophobia are products of ignorance.”

But, as Black notes, when you can count regular gay or lesbian couples on television not on one hand but on one _finger_, killing one half of that relationship carries a far greater impact than any death of a straight character could ever do. “It can be difficult for the heterosexual community to understand how important it is to see one’s self reflected onscreen. It’s so common for heterosexuals that we take it for granted, often to the point where we don’t even think it matters at all. But to a marginalized segment of the population, where there is a constant feeling that one’s very existence is being denied, that onscreen reflection can be priceless.”

The most eloquent critics of the decision to kill Tara are at pains not to label the show’s producers as homophobic. “A group of homophobic writers and producers could never have given the world the Willow/Tara relationship in the first place, and there’s no reason to assume that they have all suddenly turned homophobic now,” says Black. “On the other hand, even if Mutant Enemy didn’t intend to tell a homophobic story, they were still capable of placing a homophobic image on the screen.”

The argument gains strength given the juxtaposition of Tara and Willow’s make-up shagging with the death straight afterwards. Buffy has always portrayed sex and death as being metaphors for one another: the ‘siring’ of a new vampire has always carried strong sexual overtones, and when Buffy herself lost her virginity to Angel (a vampire whose soul had been returned to him) he reverted to the ultra-evil serial killer he had been in centuries past. But in a series where death is generally no hindrance to continued appearance in the series, redemption has generally always been on offer — at least, as long as you’re straight.

The only other recurring gay character in the series at this point had been Larry, a high school student who was one of two killed during the climax to the series’ third season. The other victim, high school bitch princess Harmony, became a vampire herself and popped up on numerous occasions. For the gay characters to be the only ones denied any chance of redemption, it can be argued, sends a terrible message to the audience — a message that may be unintentional, but is no less damaging for it: sex is bad, but gay sex is worse. Producer David Fury admitted in an interview in May 2002 that “in retrospect, I can see the cliché. That was not our intent. We wanted to show them together and happy. It created the impression in a lot of people’s minds that [Tara’s] death was linked to them having sex.”

The show’s producers, especially series creator Joss Whedon, say that the negative reaction to the loss of Tara from the show took them by surprise. “It was an episode that was clearly about male violence and dominance,” Whedon told _E! Online_, “and suddenly I’m a gay basher.”

In America (and for satellite viewers in the UK), a year’s worth of episodes have gone by since the events of Seeing Red. Willow’s still gay — and making the faltering steps back into coupledom with new girlfriend Kennedy. While played almost completely played for laughs, Tom Lenk’s Andrew Wells brings the total of recurring gay characters by the series’ end to three — which is three more than most TV series have ever achieved.

Amber Benson will be missed from television screens both sides of the Atlantic. Not only because there’s one less positive gay character, but also because she’s of normal build, with a curvaceous beauty that is so rare in an industry where most actresses can only succeed if they’re genetically cross-bred with a stick insect. Still, her own career now has some great opportunities ahead. She has written and directed an acclaimed film, _Chance_, and is co-author (with Christopher Golden) of the remarkable animated series [The Ghosts of Albion](http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ghosts/) for BBCi’s website. And thanks to DVD and video, Tara and Willow can remain together for as long as we need them to be.

* Originally published on [Gay.com UK](http://uk.gay.com/) _(original article no longer available)_