The King’s Head Theatre is celebrating this year with an impressive array of LGBTQI+ productions, not least of which is the recent announcement of its Queer Season for 2017. This is a special year, marking the 50th anniversary since the decriminalisation of homosexuality through the Sexual Offences Act 1967 – the King’s Head has already been an active part of the celebrations with the return of 5 Guys Chillin’, one of the most successful LGBT plays to date.
Now Em-Lou Productions, the company behind 5 Guys Chillin’ returns with an exciting new collaboration. In conjunction with Dragonflies Theatre (the company behind The Chemsex Monologues), they bring Queers over from the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival for a limited run.
I spoke with writer Patrick Cash and director Peter Darney about their experiences with the King’s Head in the past, their hopes for the show in the future and their excitement at being a part of such a landmark celebratory year:
What was the inspiration behind creating Queers?
Patrick: It was mainly by working as a journalist within the queer community of London. I got to interview many inspiring LGBTQ people, often older with amazing stories to tell, and research the community’s history, most of which I’d never known before. I juxtaposed that legacy against where we are today as LGBTQ people – unfortunately, even more topical with the homophobic DUP in UK government!
Out of the characters in Queers, do you associate more closely with any of their journeys in particular?
Patrick: One of the characters I relate to most closely is Larry, the ‘lad’ on a stag do. Larry very much represents some of how I felt when coming out of the closet and the fear about potentially losing my straight male friends. Looking back now it seems absurd to be so scared, but the intensity at the time was very real. Larry is a version of me if I hadn’t have come out at 17.
Peter: Like Pat, I most relate to Larry too. I spent my teens and early 20’s in heterosexual relationships, and it was not until I was 26 that I started to accept my sexuality. The fear of not being accepted, losing my friends, potential judgement from my family were too much, and it felt easier to go on as I was. Thankfully, like the character Larry, I finally realised it was ‘easier, but not happier’.
How do non-London audiences differ to London audiences when reacting to both of your work?
Patrick: I think if a production achieves an emotional truth – in writing, direction and acting – then that will hit home wherever you present the production. In Dublin, where we premiered this show, it was gratifying when people personally came backstage to say how much they’d been moved. But the play is London-centric – Soho, Vauxhall, Dalston – so we’re looking forward to showing it here!
Peter: I think we have a great theatre scene in London, but there is a great theatre scene in Dublin too. It was my third time at the festival, and I am always delighted by the openness and respectfulness of the Irish audience. I have had two plays transfer for Off-Broadway runs, and generally the audiences there seem to be a little older and more conservative. But an engaging story, told well, is, generally speaking, universal.
How does it feel to be back at King’s Head Theatre, the venue that played host to 5 Guys Chillin’, The HIV Monologues and The Chemsex Monologues?
Patrick: The King’s Head have been incredible champions of Dragonflies Theatre’swork, and we’re so grateful to them for their support – it’s always a pleasure to be back! In a wider sense as well, apart from our own work, I feel it’s so important to have a venue in our city that doesn’t shy away from staging relevant and engaging queer theatre among non-queer plays.
Peter: The King’s Head Theatre have been very supportive of Em-Lou Productions’work – this will be our eighth run with them. They have a really exciting & diverse program and I love the cross-pollination that happens between different types of audience as a result of this programming. The King’s Head Theatre is also excellent at engaging the audience that needs to see the work, at generating debate and conversation, and that makes it an exciting place to be.
Not only are you back at King’s Head, but are performing during the London Pride Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of decriminalising homosexuality. That’s a pretty special moment to a part of.
Patrick: Yes, it certainly is! Pride in London is such a special, awesome festival to have in this world capital we live in, and I have so much respect for all the hard work of everyone who puts it on. To be staging a play about LGBTQ equality during the 50th anniversary of decriminalising homosexuality does feel pretty special, but sadly, as I’ve said above, almost too relevant given the DUP’s rise.
Peter: It is a great festival and so important. It’s all too easy to forget that the rights we take for granted are recent, and that other generations fought tooth and nail to get them. I think it’s vital that the gay community holds on to its queer history. One of the many things I love about Pat’s play is that it does look at some key events, and represents the benefits of cross-generational dialogue, in an extremely entertaining way.
What would the ideal future for Queers be after this run at King’s Head?
Patrick: I feel the play would make a great fit for LGBTQ History Month, given what it covers in the material! Also, having premiered in Dublin, maybe Brighton, Edinburgh and even Adelaide Fringe.
Peter: A run for LGBT History Month, and runs in other fringe festivals would be great. It would be really nice to take it to Manchester and Cardiff and some of the other great UK cities with Queer communities.
What is next in the pipeline for Em-Lou Productions and for Dragonflies Theatre that you can tell us about?
Patrick: Dragonflies Theatre are doing a Love Happens Here Cabaret Night on Sunday 25 June at the Sound Lounge in Tooting, and a special Pride performance of The HIV Monologues on Wednesday 5 July at the Two Brewers in Clapham. Then we’re taking a little break over the summer, while Luke’s in Edinburgh and so that I can get on with some writing! But we’ll be back in the Autumn.
Peter: Em-Lou Productionswill be in Edinburgh with the Kings’ Head Theatre this August taking 5 Guys Chillin’ to the Assembly Roxy for the Festival, and a film based on the play is in development. We also recently workshopped a new children’s play at this year’s Brighton Fringe, which will be transferring to a London theatre as their Christmas Show this year.
Who or what are your inspirations when writing, directing and performing this kind of work? Who are your inspirations in theatre in general?
Pat: I’d say the inspiration for the writing of Queers was mainly events and figures, rather than other plays per se: The Brixton Fairies, the Admiral Duncan bombing, the story of Marsha P Johnson etc. My inspirations in theatre include Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane, and Theatre de Complicité. Seeing Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? recently was inspiring. I love stories and vision.
Peter: I remember seeing The York Realist by Peter Gil when I was 19 and being deeply affected by it. In terms of directors I love the work of Declan Donnellan, Katie Mitchell, Emma Rice and Robert Lepage; Melly Still and Loveday Ingram also factor high. In terms of writing influences, Peter Gill, Tim Price, Robin Soans and Kenneth Lonergan are all people I am keen on. And I thought Katherine Soper’s play Wishlist smashed it at the Royal Court this year.