Writers: Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Claire Going
The concept of this show is a simple but brilliant exploration into real-life coming-out stories. Launched on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, the script is a powerfully woven patchwork piece of over 20 true stories collected from online submissions, interviews and even celebrity accounts pieced together by writers Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin.
The way these stories are presented is equally different. Don’t go expecting a slick professional performance, because some of the actors may have only been given the script a short time before. Featuring a rolling programme of guest performers, alongside two resident actors, the whole show is delivered with the four cast members reading from scripts while sitting on clear plastic stools and occasionally sipping from nearby bottles of water.
There is the distinct impression that this is more of a presentation than a play, and no doubt that is the idea, but it is a shame that the format sometimes gets in the way of allowing the audience to get close to the characters, the real people, represented in it. The idea of using guest performers to demonstrate that these stories could be anybody’s is an admirable one, but sadly it does affect the quality of the presentation.
Nonetheless, this show offers a candid, often touching, regularly funny, and sometimes painful insight into the real lives of people from the LGBT community. Directed by David Grindley, the cast delivers some strong performances, despite being sometimes constricted by the rainbow-coloured scripts in front of them. Resident performer, Camille Ucan, is particularly convincing as a transgender young woman whose journey of discovery leads her to dress as a man in drag to try to make sense of how she feels. Ucan’s portrayal gently carries the audience along with her as she comes to the realisation that really ‘she’ should be a ‘he’.
Andrew Doyle is solid throughout, but saves his best performance till the end, as the boy who morphs from fat kid to anorexic emo in his teen years. Disappointed by his mother’s calm reaction to the news that he is gay, he throws a diva hissy fit until she agrees to replay the exchange and “throws him out” in disgust. Caroline Lennon, as the compliant mother, is perfect. Asking him “Do you feel better now?” his gratitude is hilariously out of place, but ever so genuine. That definitely sounds like a fun family to be a part of.
Hardeep Singh Kohli, as guest actor, puts in a memorable array of performances, from the gloriously camp to the painfully tragic. His most touching performances include a young man who was tortured in a 1960s “loony-bin” by vomit-inducing injections while trapped in a room with pints of Guinness and pictures of men in swimsuits; and as the jailed RAF medic who is branded with a criminal record for gross indecency for simply being gay.
That is the greatest thing about this show. The stark, wonderful, heart-wrenching and refreshing reality of it. In terms of set design, lighting and sound, however, it is nothing special. It is a shame the touring production has abandoned the original backdrop of handwritten notes and pictures, they are replaced by a large suspended sign with the title of the show on it, and more could have been done to give the stories some atmosphere with sound and lighting.
The presentation-style concept works to an extent, but sometimes it means the substance is lost. Giving this show some more drama could have done more to really do these wonderful stories justice.
Reviewed on 26 February 2016 and on tour | Image: Contributed