Monday, 31 July 2017

Theatre review: Queers Part 2

A companion piece to Friday's one-off performance at the Old Vic, Max Webster joins Mark Gatiss on directing duties for the concluding four monologues from BBC4's Queers series. Once again the stories take us through the decades before and after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, beginning during the Blitz with Keith Jarrett's The Safest Spot in Town. Kadiff Kirwan plays a dapper West Indian who immigrated to London a few years earlier, finding a more insidious, two-faced form of racism than he'd expected. The arrival of German bombers has created, for a while at least, a more inclusive atmosphere as everyone's up against a common enemy. But, in what is probably the slightest of the eight short plays, he finds it hard to forget being turned away from the places that now want his custom, and goes cottaging instead - a life-changing decision.

Rebecca Front is the only TV actor in this second collection unavailable to reprise her role on stage; Sara Crowe ably takes over for Jon Bradfield's Missing Alice, which looks at the knock-on effect of criminalisation: Having been rendered "damaged goods" by a teenage pregnancy, Alice married a man before realising he just wanted her as a beard. But even if the marriage wasn't what she'd hoped for they made it work in their own way and, speaking in 1957 after the publication of the Wolfenden Report and the first suggestion that homosexuality might be legalised, she's afraid of how that might change her life.

Still appearing in another story of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Russell Tovey plays Phil in Brian Fills' More Anger, an actor tired of being typecast as a dying victim, who's managed to stay HIV-negative himself, but is thrown when his new boyfriend reveals he's positive. Starting in 1987, this is the only monologue to be broken up over a long period of time, and even as things change and different kinds of role become available to him, Phil finds there's still a limited pool of gay archetypes that people want to see on screen. As with all the plays the emphasis is on a lighter touch and the survivors of these various difficult times, but as the title suggests Tovey does have a bit more anger underlying this one.

Finally 1994, and the vote to equalise the age of consent - the time it was voted down from 21 to 18 as a compromise, a supposed move forwards with an implicit slap in the face attached. In Michael Dennis' A Grand Day Out Fionn Whitehead plays a 17-year-old who's travelled from Nottingham to join the crowds outside Parliament, whose disappointment at the decision gives way to a memorable night. It's a very sweet performance with a lot of funny moments. The series' setup of people chatting to the audience as if to someone they've met in a pub gives an intimate feel that will no doubt be even more apparent in the TV versions, but also translated surprisingly well to such a large venue.

Queers by Keith Jarrett, Jon Bradfield, Brian Fillis and Michael Dennis continues on BBC4 until the 3rd of August.

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