Sunday, 3 September 2017

Theatre review: Gypsy Queen

Writer/performer Rob Ward seems to have found a niche for himself with plays about gay sportsmen; a few years ago he co-wrote and acted in monologue Away From Home, about a gay footballer in a secret relationship, and now he takes on solo writing duties while sharing the acting with Ryan Clayton in a story where the relationship is still secret, but the sport’s much more up-front about its aggressive side. In Gypsy Queen Clayton plays Dane “The Pain” Samson, a promising boxer, openly gay in his father’s gym where he trains, and where everyone pretty much accepts this; but wary about his sexuality being known more generally, and worried that one sports reporter in particular keeps sniffing around it. Ward is “Gorgeous” George O’Connell, from an Irish traveller background, who bare-knuckle boxes in pub car parks until Dane’s father talent-spots him and invites him to turn professional.

Ward writes himself a shower scene complete withFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!which is when Dane spots George and becomes interested. Having been closeted even to himself until then, George is interested back and they make tentative steps towards a relationship.

Although no longer working on a monologue Ward keeps much of the structure, with writing that sometimes edges into blank verse, the only difference being there’s now two actors to share both the narration and the variety of - mostly comic – supporting characters who help or impede the two young men in both their careers and love lives. This is where Gypsy Queen’s strengths lie, in an entertaining array of quick-changes and caricatures, Clayton having the most fun with George’s Irish mother, fussing over her headscarf and insisting her son say grace before drinking his Bovril.

Less successful for me was the more dramatic element, where George’s internalised homophobia sabotages their relationship with tragic results; the story’s twists all felt a bit familiar and derivative of other issue-based gay plays and films. And considering the two actors do a good enough job differentiating between their characters, Adam Zane’s production is a bit too keen to have them dress up in comedy costumes: At one point the action stops entirely just so Clayton can faff about getting changed into a not-particularly-funny visual gag.

So for a show that’s been touring the country for a while now Gypsy Queen still feels a little rough around the edges, but the positives outweigh the negatives and it’s an entertaining, if not as moving as it should be, 70 minutes. It’s obvious Ward has talent both as writer and actor, but it still feels a bit raw. I think with the right people helping him shape his work we should be seeing some very special stuff from him in the future.

Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward is booking until the 23rd of September at the King’s Head Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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