“There’s nowt so queer as folk.”
Only about a week behind schedule, I wanted to round up my thoughts about the National’s Queer Theatre season and try a formulate a bit of a response to the piece by Alice Saville for Exeunt which rather took aim at the season alongside the Old Vic’s Queers (also I just want to point out too that there are two writers of colour involved – Tarell Alvin McCraney and Keith Jarrett). As a member of the ‘majority’ within this minority, I tread warily and aim to do so with love and respect.
It feels important to recognise what the NT (and the Old Vic) were trying to achieve though. Queer Theatre looked “at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings, exhibitions, talks and screenings” and if only one looked at lesbian women, two of the readings were written by women. Several of the post-show discussions at the NT talked specifically about this issue but in acknowledging it, also quite rightly pointed out that there just isn’t the historical body of work to draw from when it comes to wider LGBT+ representation. That’s where the talks and screenings came into their own, able to provide some of that alternative focus.
And from my position of relative privilege, it did feel that we were getting some diversity in the stories being told – a viewpoint from the 1920s, a historical look at gay life under the Nazis, the uniqueness (not to mention the charisma, nerve and talent) of NY drag ball culture, as well as modern-day London gays. There’s no doubt that we do need to recognise the dearth of the representation of the full LGBT+ spectrum in the theatrical canon but it is hard not to feel that we also need to be allowed to celebrate what has been achieved as well, without guilt.
Hopefully, by the next time an anniversary comes around, we’ll be celebrating plays such as Rotterdam and Jess and Joe Forever pushing the (theatrical) trans narrative forward, even marking the achievements of the innovative queer theatremakers that Saville fetes. But to dismiss the raw emotion of Martin Sherman’s Bent as “calcified”, to deny the opportunity for audiences to bask, even if just for a little while on Pride weekend itself, “in the warm glow of retrospective tolerance” feels like too strident a move – we can celebrate the past, recognising its warts and all, and look to the future all at the same time.
Neaptide (1986), by Sarah DanielsDirected By Sarah Frankcom
Wig Out (2008), by Tarell Alvin McCraneyDirected by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Certain Young Men (1999), by Peter GillDirected by Peter Gill
Bent (1979), by Martin ShermanDirected by Stephen Daldry
The Drag (1927), by Mae West Directed by Polly Stenham