Writers: Thomas Hescott, Matthew Baldwin
Director: Thomas Hescott
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Does anyone still speak Polari? Can anyone? It was an incredibly important dialect at a time, and now that it doesn’t have to be used as a matter of necessity, it can and should be celebrated for being so fantastically outré and interesting. A few words have crossed into common use like describing someone as butch or camp, or slap for makeup, but hearing it in free-flow conversation is a different experience altogether. This 70 minute one man show revolves around the time the language was at its most indispensable, covering some covering some thought-provoking ground and weighty issues of gay rights. Sadly, there are only a few sprinklings of the language throughout, but that’s ok, the two omis have created something worth a visit.
At times, it’s true, there are seriously laboured points and it gets a bit heavy handed and inelegant, but with a solid performance from Baldwin as each of his five characters the show is mainly saved. We start with a modern man (the most interesting character) griping about having to go to a party to fundraise for gay rights. He moans about how he’s actually doing fine and why should he have to pay to fundraise and surely the gays have all the rights they can get anyway and how his partner is so annoying to be making him go and some other things and on and on and on.
It’s wearying really, to listen to him, which seems to be the point. He’s annoying, entitled and selfish. But through him we are presented with the entire point of the performance. The Wolfenden report, published in 1957 allowed for the subsequent legalisation of homosexual acts and improved the lives of thousands who no longer had to fear legal retribution for private, and consensual, acts. The play highlights how far the fight for gay rights have come and the, well drawn and engaging, other characters bring the story to life. We have Matthews, the secretly gay civil servant who tries to fight his loneliness with Soho bars and a dicey liaison with a young man in a Leicester square “pissoire”. We have the über omi-polone, the Duchess, maven of the Soho underground club scene and sometime pimp for men in his hotel. Also present, is a politician, standing in the House, starting a debate on the Wolfenden report in support of homosexual rights, told through verbatim passages of speeches made by Kenneth Robinson MP.
This is all still important stuff, and it’s great people are thinking about it. Highlighting the real, primal struggle the LGBT community has gone through to reach the standard of acceptance in society it has today by comparing it to the entitled caricature of a modern gay man is a superb device. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t click structurally. The highlights are the politician’s speeches which Baldwin delivers extremely well (with a subtle but intelligent use of an echo sound effect, a tiny detail that makes it stand out). The other characters limp and struggle at times, telling the story well but no where near as well as they could have with the addition of another character on stage to provide even a visible target for the Duchess, the civil servant or the modern man. On top of this, there are some cabaret style songs, which are performed well but sometimes lyrically so trite they threaten to detail the entire thing (singing “Fanny Boy” as a weird and needy love song to the tune of Danny Boy is not good at all but the song about Rough Trade is actually decent).
So yes, a reasonable play about some very important issues using clever ideas and dramatical devices to showcase them. Structurally creaky and sometimes lacklustre in content. As a piece of theatre, not entirely bona, but as mentioned above, well worth a vada for the ideas if nothing else.
Runs until 29th March