Review: Outlaws to In-laws
Image: King's Head Theatre
Outlaws to In-laws, dedicated to the struggles and joys of gay men connecting with each other over the last seven decades.
From the darkest days of criminality to the legalising of gay marriage in the UK, it features seven short plays by leading gay writers that represent each of the decades from the 1950s to the present day.
Outlaws to In-laws, directed by Mary Franklin, is a fictional exploration of gay men in the throes of love - young love, risky love, secret love ... and good old-fashioned romance.
Happy and Glorious by Philip Meeks is set in the 1950s.
On the day of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, South London lad Dennis follows a young man away from the celebrating crowds to an apartment overlooking Westminster Abbey.
He soon discovers a world far away from his own and within a matter of hours he falls in and out of love.
As the new monarch is crowned Dennis' life will never be the same again.
Mister Tuesday by Jonathan Harvey is set in the 60s.
In their own little love nest, Peter loves Jimmy and Jimmy loves Peter but only every Tuesday.
Peter wants more from Jimmy but Jimmy has a sensitive job, a wife, and baby on the way.
Frustrated, Peter makes Jimmy a bleak offer to make sure he won't flee the nest.
Reward by Jonathan Kemp is set in the 70s.
It's the Queen's Silver Jubilee.
Donald, a sweet 16 American meets Spike, a skinhead, at a bus stop in a dodgy part of town.
The attraction is instant.
Except Spike belongs to the National Front and Donald is black.
Will their love take them to a place of reward or punishment?
1984 by Patrick Wilde is set in the 80s.
The Conservative Party Conference is about to start when Tommy and Allan find themselves under Brighton Pier, but the time for hiding in the shadows should be over.
Allan, Margaret Thatcher's aide, is preparing to help legislate against gay people.
Suddenly the political and the personal become a matter of life and death.
Princess Die by In Matt Harris is set in the 90s.
Shane has had yet another disastrous night out with his boyfriend, and worse his fledgling drag career is struggling to get off the ground.
All seems lost until he finds a gorgeous, naked stranger in the flat.
Can Tyler help Shane find the personal reserves to carry on before things get any worse?
Brothas by Topher Campbell is set in the noughties.
It centres on Dwayne, a muscular, attractive Jamaican immigrant and his overweight, plain university friend, Remi.
They are chilling, and chatting ... and chatting to guys online but after Dwayne finds a hot date for the night - with benefits he discovers Remi is using a fake profile ...
The Last Gay Play by Joshua Val Martin is set in the present.
Anyone can get cold feet before getting married but hiding in the chapel belfry isn't the answer!
Will the Father get the groom to the altar or does he care more about the church roof than he does about his son's happiness?
7 leading gay writers join forces to tell stories of GAY lives over 7 decades.
7 new short plays spanning the decades from the 1950s to the present day exploring gay lives against a rapidly changing social history from intolerance, violence and hate through to the legalisation of homosexuality and gay marriage.
Combining work from different writers in a single production is not a new concept - sometimes, the aim is merely to present a collection of disparate pieces or, as is the case here, to link several plays around a common subject to provide a dramatic framework.
The theme for this show is "the struggles and joys of gay men connecting with each other in the UK over the last seven decades".
That is a tough challenge to treat effectively as the producers readily admit, because it's not only a massive and intricate issue, but it's complicated by significant changes in attitudes within society in general and other factors such as political expediency, access to information and support, technological developments and rising living standards among many other matters.
This production, then, was never going to cover everything in the space of around 2 hours and, commendably, it doesn't try to - think of it as an assemblage of glimpses of gay experiences rather than a detailed compendium or microscopic analysis of the issues and you're on the right track.
That approach won't satisfy everyone, I suspect, but the brief portraits of gay life we're presented with are enough to both remind of the dark days of the past and to show how far the gay community has come along its road to achieving acceptance within society.
Outlaws to In-Laws takes a linear, historical approach starting back in the gloomy days of the 1950s (when imprisonment and social ruin figured prominently in the minds of gay men) and stopping off at each decade since then to bring us right up-to-date.
A well-chosen, hugely talented and versatile ensemble of six actors deliver 20 authentic, well-described characters, and the entire enterprise is sensitively and astutely overseen by director Mary Franklin, who provides the subtle connective glue to demonstrate progress and liberating transformation in the successive stories we hear.
Phillip Meeks's 'Happy & Glorious' kicks off the proceedings with a group of gay men gathered to toast the coronation in the early 1950s.
But, as they sip champagne, it's already evident there is conflict between gay men themselves, some of whom want to kick against an unjust legal system, and others who simply want to keep a low profile and avoid the full wrath of the law and possible loss of livelihood.
And that aspect of gay life in the 1950s and 60s is examined more fully in Jonathan Harvey's grittily written and powerfully performed Mister Tuesday where Jack Bence's Peter challenges his weekly visitor, Elliot Balchin's Jimmy, to be true to his nature.
But, as a police officer, Jimmy faces an impossible dilemma with his job on the line as well as his relationship with his children.
The seemingly unusual couplings between gay men are examined next in Jonathan Kemp's Reward where overt violence appears as another brutal matter which has to be faced and endured.
By the time we get to Patrick Wilde's 1984, decriminalisation has long-since passed, but gay men still find themselves reluctant to come out of the shadows.
In the second half, the social mood has lightened, but a new spectre has to be faced in the form of HIV as shown in Matt Harris's inventive Princess Die.
Then we enter a new millennium and discover two young black men unashamedly taking advantage of technological developments to find their sexual partners.
Same-sex marriage brings up the dramatic rear as Joshua Val Martin examines whether tying the knot is the way forward and, in the process, introducing a touch of, perhaps self-congratulatory, sentimentality.
The first half works rather better dramatically, probably because the mood is darker and the forces arraigned against gay men seemingly more terrifying and the cause of more despair even than the devastatingly tragic appearance of HIV and AIDS in the second half.
Though all the plays stand-up as interesting pieces in their own right, collectively these well-written, often poignant and sometimes heartbreaking stories are exposed in captivating performances, providing an absorbing summary of the path gay men have trodden over 70 years.
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