Sunday 28 February 2010

Laughter and Lies

“I would not advise any actor, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out... it doesn’t work if you’re gay.”
Rupert Everett.

It’s that great and lasting gossip, who’s gay in Hollywood. For many, it’s the endless speculation, which actor is really gay, which Hollywood marriage is really a sham? Hollywood itself doesn’t help matters, they award straight actors for playing gay but if an actor comes out as gay their career dries faster than a straight-to-DVD sequel.

Last night we went to see the Westend production of The Little Dog Laughed, by Douglas Carter Beane, which is about Hollywood Homophobia and how do you live within that if you’re a gay actor. This is not an original premise, other plays have looked at it before, but this time the enemy isn’t some big bad straight Hollywood mogul, the enemy here is the Hollywood system.

Diana is a Hollywood agent, a lesbian who has sacrificed her sexuality for her career. Mitchell is a Hollywood actor on the rise, and Diana’s client, but he’s also gay. Alex is a New York rent boy and Ellen is his party-girl girlfriend. On a trip to New Year, Mitchell meets Alex and the two men fall for each other; but Diana is busy negotiating producing a film that will star Mitchell and the last thing she needs is a gay leading man.

The plot might not be original but Carter Beane’s handling of it is. He shows a deep cynicism for Hollywood and the whole process of film making, painting a world where people will sell their very soul for a hit movie, but done so with such political manoeuvring and manipulation as to put the Borgias to shame. The cynicism here certainly stretches to the play’s ending, this isn’t happy-ever-after fantasy of so many other gay plays. The fast pace of the play, many of the characters talking directly to the audience, fitted well with its setting and subject matter. (I did wonder who the character of the agent was based on, she manipulates all around her with such a razor sharp edge that had to come from some insider knowledge)

The cast was certainly four beautiful people, but these were actors who were more than just good looks. Rupert Friend was insecure, needy and lonely as Mitchell. Harry Lloyd was cute but naive as Alex (his rent boy might know his way around a bedroom but was clueless about his own emotions). Gemma Atherton fleshed out the under-written role of Ellen, the character only coming into her own in the second act. But the star here was Tamsin Grieg as Diana. She was funny but frighteningly manipulative, hard in her drive for success. This was a woman you didn’t dare get on the wrong side of.

The Little Dog Laughed was certainly an enjoyable play, its sharp wit driving it forward; but its cynicism and unflattering view of Hollywood also made a dark and unlimitedly uncomfortable story. Hollywood homophobia is still a nasty and distasteful thing, propped up by so many lesbians and gay men.

As an aside: in 1988 when Ian McKellen came out as gay I was still struggling to come to terms with my own sexuality. His very public coming out meant so much to me. Here was an actor that I admired, who I’d seen on stage, and he was gay too. He was also happy to tell people so. He was the opposite of the stereotypes I had been raised with. It was one of those important, turning points in my life.


Saturday 27 February 2010

Mr Bennett and the Gift of Art

“About the play... there is always somebody left out...”
The Habit of Art, Alan Bennett.

Alan Bennett has the reputation of writing cosy and Northern dramas, populated by strong matriarchs, put upon husbands and single, sensitive sons; but the reality of his writing is far from this. His prose and memoir writing has charted his upbringing in Leeds and the lives of his parents, but none of this could be called cosy. His drama certainly isn’t

Last Saturday, we went to see his latest play, The Habit of Art, at the National Theatre. It was about a, fictional, meeting between W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten in the 1970’s when Britten was writing his opera Death in Venice and Auden had virtually retired to Oxford. But this wasn’t a dry and academic plot. During the cause of the play Auden has a date with a local rent boy and an interviewer from BBC Radio (Humphrey Carpenter, who would later write biographies of both Auden & Britten), who Auden mistakes for his afternoon rent boy.

Bennett has chosen the structure of a play-within-a-play for this play and it’s a structure that works very well. The play is set during an afternoon rehearsal of the play-within-a-play. This gives the opportunity for the actors to come out of character and discuss the play they’re rehearsing, to discuss the details of Auden and Britten’s lives.

On the surface the play appears to be about biography and the creation of art, one character is the biographer of both Auden and Britten, and Britton comes to Auden for help in the creation of his opera; but this is a much more person play. There is an exchange between Auden and Britten were they talk about being gay men in the public eye were their sexuality has become public knowledge, through the fact that they have male partners, but they have never officially “come out.”

The writing here shows Bennett at his best. There is his sharp comedy, which comes out of the characters he’s created and the situation he’s put them in (there’s a scene involving talking furniture which is both embarrassing and very funny). I also wonder how much is the setting was taken from real life, the National Theatre has almost become the home for his recent plays and this one is set in a rehearsal room at the National Theatre.

The performances here are of the high standard I’ve come to expect at the National Theatre, with Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings turning in commanding performances as the actors playing Auden and Britton, but the stand out performance was that of Frances de la Tour as the Stage Manager running the rehearsal. So much of her role is to anchor the rehearsal, constantly drawing the characters back to their performance, but at the end she reveals that she was once an actress but she gave up acting because it became no longer special for her.

A new Alan Bennett play, for me, is one of those things I don’t want to miss. His writing is interesting but also emotionally engaging with a riche humour running through it. He’s certainly one of our greatest living dramatists, though he always pushes against the label of “National Treasure”, and I can’t blame him. Who would want to be put in a glass cage in museum somewhere, like a crown or a piece of parchment?


Monday 22 February 2010

Rain, Rain and Rain

I publish some of my short stories on ABC Tales website and, not to sound too immodest, I’ve had a lot of success doing so. My stories have been well received, and that only helps as a writer.

The latest I’ve published there is Penance on a Wet Thursday Morning ( This story explores a theme that my writing repeatedly comes back to, the effects of religion on people’s lives. This time it is seen from the point-of-view of a woman who has lost her baby to cot death, and how she can’t come to terms with that tragedy.

If you do read this story please leave a comment afterwards, there’s a comments section on the webpage. I read all the comments and I really value them, whatever they are, because feedback helps my writing.

More of my stories and writing can be found at:


Friday 19 February 2010

What Do I Think...

A big part of my writing life is reviews, mainly for Nursing Standard magazine. This week sees the publication of my last one, in Nursing Standard, this one of the Shoutloud website (

This was an interesting website, it’s a campaigning one to encourage people to lobby their local Primary Care Trust on the sexual health services they provide. Now, Britain has a terrible record on sexual health, our rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections would make a Victoria brothel house keeper blush, so this website is needed.

Summing up the pros and cons of it and recommending whether to use it or not, all in 250 words, is certainly an art. I can’t claim to be an expert at, but it’s something I am certainly learning.

Ten years ago this wouldn’t be where I saw my writing career being, but jobbing writing like this has taught me so much about the mechanics of writing, how to get your message across without wasting too many words (a thing that I can easily slip into). It is so a great boost to my confidence to be asked to write these reviews.


Thursday 11 February 2010

Some Things Can Never Be Best Forgotten

I‘ve had difficulty in writing this blog, this week, because everything I try to write is too heavily coloured with anger, my anger. Two weeks ago I blogged about the Churches’ attempt to be exempted from the Equality Bill ( Well they got their way, they can refuse to employ someone just because they’re gay, and the Government will not push them to comply. I am so angry, again the Christian Church is clinging to their homophobia and ignoring the reality of human rights.

Some may say I’m obsessed, I certainly write a lot about Christian Homophobia, and that I should just let it go. I am no longer the member of a church, anymore. Maybe they’re right, maybe I should? But my past haunts me too much.

When I was a teenager I tried very hard to be an Evangelical Christian but ultimately I failed because I could never succeed. I’m gay and for far too many Evangelical Christians there’s nothing I could to be a Christian unless I did the impossible, changed my sexuality. I tried to do that but couldn’t (

I suffered at the hands of the other members of the church I attended, people who said they were my friends and that everything they did was “in love.” The worst was, at nineteen, I had daemons cast of me just for being gay (not even for having a “gay lifestyle” because I was still a virgin then).

It happened at the meeting at the church’s Young People’s Fellowship, on a cold, winter Sunday evening. Suddenly the prayer session turned into an exorcism, with me at the centre of it. I was stood there while everyone else gathered around me, my head bowed forward, as they all pressed their hands down onto me and called on God to remove the “daemons” inside of me that were making me gay (!!). My most abiding memory of that evening was the pattern on the carpet, because that’s all I stared at as their prayers went on and on. It was after it had all finished that I was hit by a wall of depression and pain. I felt so deeply betrayed, those people had seemed to turn on me so completely. I wasn’t evil or corrupt, there was no screaming daemon clinging to my soul, nor was the devil on back with his talons in my neck. I was just different, no more.

Shortly after this I found myself being treated like a leper just for being gay. Everyone turned against me, I was pushed out of all my involvement at church, no longer was I wanted around, and I lost all my friends there, just because I was gay. I had not even taken the first steps to accepting my sexuality and suddenly I had a huge door slammed in my face, Christianity didn’t want me.

All this happened in a suburban, Liverpool, Anglican parish church. This didn’t happen at an extreme fringe church, or a Pentecostal church with a name that fills the side of the building. This happened in church that was part of the official church of my country, the same church that has disgracefully wormed out of the Equality Bill.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, only yesterday, called on the Church's general synod not to use "megaphone tones" when talking about sexuality, to give consideration to the views of other Christians ( I am not holding my breath to see what happens, the church’s leadership seems obsessed with their own brand of homophobia.

know there are good and open people who are Christians, I know many of them, but it’s the Leadership of the church I have no faith in. It is them who seem desperate to hold onto their homophobia, just as our country finally moves away from it.