Friday 25 August 2023

Theatre review: Dumbledore Is So Gay

It probably won't come as much of a surprise that, despite having heard nothing but good things about Robert Holtom's Dumbledore Is So Gay from its earlier fringe runs, I was still very much in two minds about whether to book for its new run at Southwark Playhouse. As someone who was a Harry Potter fan, and who even though an adult when the books were first published derived some comfort from the stories at difficult times, it's something that's been very tainted in recent years by the author's views, and that I've been happy to cut out of my life (quite successfully as it turns out - I don't think I'd realised I'd have quite so little warmth left for the play's references to the books and films.) It's particularly grimly ironic that Holtom writes about the series' appeal to LGBTQ+ people, and the way it helps a young queer boy find his identity.

So Jack (Alex Britt) narrates his coming out story, beginning with him in class aged twelve and getting an erection when he realises how much he fancies his best friend Ollie (Martin Sarreal.) With his rather dense parents offering little support, he decides to date his friend Gemma (Charlotte Dowding.)

By the time he's eighteen this leaves Gemma betrayed by the deception, Ollie closeted and suicidal, and Jack himself trawling Heaven for sex, which is where the play's Harry Potter connection comes in: Having, for reasons the play doesn't for a second consider trying to explain, a functioning Time Turner around his neck, Jack travels back in time to that moment at 12 years old and attempts to do things differently, but still can't quite get things right.

In total the play gives him three attempts - that grim first one, better but still unsatisfactory do-over, and finally a rather fluffily happy third go that's still not quite perfect enough for him, but he has to learn to be accept will never be perfect. The title comes, of course, from the character being officially outed, as well as by the use of "gay" as a playground insult that seems to absolutely dominate Jack's school life, leaving him so unable to confront his sexuality in the first go-round. Britt is a very sweet lead who balances this childlike charm with the sexiness as his story gets comically explicit - I may not have read the books in years but I'm still confident there's nowhere near as much rimming in them. The other two actors play a variety of additional characters, with Dowding in particular always seeming to be up to some silent comic business in the background.

While I'm always in favour of shows getting on with things I did find Tom Wright's production too frantically hectic, especially to start with - eventually we get a bit more of a chance to breathe and actually warm to its protagonists. It's a shame the whole thing now comes with a considerable elephant in the room as ultimately the Harry Potter fandom is a very minor part of the story - and come to think of it the time travel in the play doesn't even work in the same way as it does in the books, so it's not even needed as a hook to hang it on. It's a funny, sweet and occasionally sexy little play, that only makes the slightest of nods towards the baggage it's (presumably inadvertently) saddled itself with, and as such is probably doomed to be forever overshadowed by it.

Dumbledore Is So Gay by Robert Holtom is booking until the 23rd of September at Southwark Playhouse Borough's Little Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: David Jenson.

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