Sunday, 20 February 2011

Company, at the Southwark Playhouse.

It’s not so hard being married, it’s much the cleanest of crimes,

It’s not so hard being married, I’ve done it two or three times.

Lyric from The Little Things We Do Together, Company.

Company is musical that takes a sideways look at marriage. Most musicals follow the plot of boy meets girl, there is an obstacle in their path, they overcome that obstacle, boy and girl lives happily-ever-after. Not so with Company, it takes a look at marriage and relationships and finds them wanting.

The plot here isn’t a simple journey from A to B, the plot or lack of it revolves around one man and his friends and relationships. Bobby, the central character, is a man living in New Year and on the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday. He’s single and has a reluctance, even fear, about being in a relationship; he can’t commit to a relationship and is running three girlfriends at once. The musical takes the form of different scenes of Bobby with his friends or girlfriends, with the songs acting as commentary on the action or forming part of scene.

The different married couples all have different problems in their relationships. There’s the overly competitive couple, who even complete when they give things up. There’s the couple with the repressed and mousy wife and dominating husband, but theirs makes for a sort of wedded bless, not wife abuse. There’s the couple who are happier together once they are divorced, though they don’t separate. There’s a woman marrying the man she’s lived with for years, on the morning of her wedding day decides she doesn’t want to get married (this scene was both painfully funny and very touching). Then there’s Joanna (the character who gets two of the best songs in the show), a very bitter and angry woman whose has driven away two husbands but her third husband is deeply in love with her and won’t leave her. Threaded all of this is Bobby and the mess he’s making of his life.

Bobby is a character not often seen today, an adult male, who doesn’t act like an overgrown teenager, afraid of marriage and commitment. We’ve see many female characters like this and male characters who are no more than overgrown teenage boys, but rarely are they adult men like Bobby. The musical never examines why he’s like this (there’s no song about his awful childhood, etc...) but it looks at the effect it has on his life. He doesn’t want to be alone but he doesn’t know what or who he does want.

Also, for a musical, there is a large number of female characters here, the wives being more interesting than their husbands, but this is more about its characters than it is about the musical’s plot. Each character having their moment of revelation in their scene with Bobby – Joanne’s bitterness falls into place with her scene with Bobby, late in the second act.

The Southwark Playhouse’s production certainly puts the spotlight on the character’s. The bare stage, with its three level platform upstage, doesn’t just give the characters space to breathe but to shine. It is very much about the people on stage and not the scenery around them.

For a musical, especially one on at a fringe theatre, there wasn’t a bum note sang here. All the cast had fine and on key singing voices. Their acting too hit all the right notes, though some of husbands certainly having the weaker roles. Rupert Young, as Bobby, was both handsome and charming, he brought a sort-of boyish charm to his role, giving his female friends mothering of him a sexual edge. Of the supporting actors, Siobhan McCarthy (as Joanne) and Michelle Bishop (as Bobby’s very New York girlfriend Marta) stood out. It was a surprise and pleasure to see Mark Curry (The one time Blue Peter presenter) here in the role of Larry, Joanne’s long suffering husband.

I first saw this musical over fifteen years ago, when I was single and not being successful at relationships, and found it very disturbing. In Bobby I saw a character that I didn’t want to turn into and feared that I might. Now, I’m older and have been with my partner over ten years, I didn’t find Company that uncomfortable. Now, I was able to sit back and enjoy the portrayal of the characters here, the crazy and unhappy people, I was also able to watch Bobby twist himself into knots over relationships.

Company was first performed in 1970, it’s over forty years ago and yet it hasn’t aged a day. This production is set in the present day and feels completely appropriate. It certainly doesn’t feel like a period piece or a story very much of its time. How many other musicals from the early 70s are still relevant today?

Drew


Friday, 18 February 2011

Trinity Buoy Wharf, by The Thames

Today, on the last day of our annual leave, we went to visit Trinity Buoy Wharf, another one of those hidden treasures scattered around London. Originally, it was the only Lighthouse on the Thames (Though it was used to test different types of lighting, not as a navigation aid) and the wharf used to harbour and maintain the lightships that served the Thames. Now, since the lighthouse and wharf closed, it is a "a centre for the arts and cultural activities"; which translates into an area filled with artists’ studios and workshops, and small media businesses.

Many times I’ve glimpsed Trinity Buoy Wharf as I’ve travelled to Woolwich on a DLR train, but until today I’ve never visited it. When we arrived there we were very pleasantly surprised at what we found. The place does have the feel of an artists’ community, there are pieces of sculpture all around the place, and everywhere you turned there seemed to be a different workshop or small business.

The buildings there also seemed to be wide mixture, but a mixture that actually sat well together. There are Victorian dockside buildings, including a squat lighthouse, sitting next to “Container City” offices and studios (buildings made from re-cycled shipping containers), with a 1950’s American style chrome and glass dinner sat in the middle of it all. Yet none of these buildings seemed out of place, they sat well next to each other, though the overall feel of an Artists’ Community certainly helped this.

Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of those places that making living in London so enjoyable, for me. Those strange, unusual or just unknown places tucked away in a corner of the city that you almost stumble upon, or hear about via word-of-mouth. There are so many of these places here, not widely known, like Trinity Buoy Wharf, and so I’m glad about that.

More details on Trinity Buoy Wharf can be found at: http://www.trinitybuoywharf.com/

Drew

P.S. The pictures in blog entry were taken today by Martin.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

"My Trip Down The Pink Carpet"

“I was sweating like a paedophile in a Barnie costume”
Leslie Jordan

Three days ago we went to see Leslie Jordan’s one-man-show “My Trip Down The Pink Carpet”, which is adapted from his biography of the same name. Leslie Jordan is famous from his roles of Beverley Leslie, on Will & Grace, Brother Boy in Sordid Lives, and numerous other supporting roles in TV programs like Ugly Betty and Boston Legal. But this wasn’t a show business story, where he spent the whole evening bragging about which stars he’d worked with the kind of performer who only values their worth through the stars they’ve worked with.

Leslie Jordan is short, effeminate and gay, all qualities that didn’t single him out as Leading Man material. His show, as does his autobiography, chronicles his experiences as a gay actor in Hollywood trying to find his big break, as his tries to deal with the shame and self-hatred about his sexuality, from his up-bringing as a Southern Baptist, and the drug and alcohol and male hustler addictions that came from all that self-hatred. Though he has a very natural gift for comedy (this man could make reading medical notes sound funny, and that’s a gift) so much of this show was heart-breaking in his honesty.

His breakout role on Will & Grace wasn’t even written for him (it was written for Joan Collins, but he tells that story better then I can) and he nearly missed the audition because he took a phone call from his mother, which was a strange tail about a woman in her church who got shot (!!).

His show did contain other bizarre and funny stories like this (The one about his first experience of phone sex had me nearly crying with laughter), but they often contained a darker edge – the story of his first experience on a Hollywood TV show soon turned into a nasty experience of homophobia because wasn’t “butch enough”. These stories, so neatly woven together by Leslie Jordan’s so natural stage presentence, told of the flip-side of Hollywood, those who work hard just for a career (Not fame).

But the overall theme of this show is survival, not just in Hollywood, but also from the homophobia that he was almost smothered with growing-up. Leslie Jordan lived through many years of drink and drugs addiction, which he’s not shy about, and then lived through an even harder recovery from that. His description of his own rehab and recovery was both painfully honest and painfully funny, this man can really tell a story. Of all he has achieved he is proudest of his sobriety, another telling moment.

This one-man-show is far more than just the tale of gay man in Hollywood, Leslie Jordan’s story is much more about the homophobia in American society and its effect upon him. He has a natural feel for comedy, which saved this show from being sentimental and melodramatic, but more than that he’s a natural storyteller. This is one of those shows that is more than worth the price of its tickets.

I’ve now started to read the book this show is based on.
 
Drew

P.S. The second picture on this blog Martin took of Leslie Jordan, at the book signing after the production we saw.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Small Victories

So often human rights are won a small piece at a time, not with a loud and big victory beloved by Hollywood films. One of those small victories was won, here in England, last month.

In September 2008, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy (a gay couple and civil partners) booked into a Guest House just outside Penzance. When they arrived the Guest House’s owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, refused to let them share a double bed because it went against the Bull’s Christian beliefs. The Bull’s said they didn’t allow unmarried couples to share a room but they plainly refused Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy a double room, even though they were civil partners (which for all intents and purposes gives them the same legal rights and protections as a married heterosexual couple), because they were a gay couple.

Last month, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy won their case of discrimination against the Bulls, and rightly so. They used the Equality Bill to bring their court action for discrimination and the judge agreed with them. (http://tinyurl.com/4zxggoz)

The Equality Bill has come in for a lot of attacks almost since it came into law but to me it is one of those very just laws. Read simply, it says that anyone who provides a service for the public can’t refuse someone goods or service because of the person’s sexuality or their perceived sexuality. This includes refusing a gay couple a double room where you’d offer one to a heterosexual couple. For me, this law has taken away that shadow which would hover on my shoulder. The fear that if someone realised I am gay they would refuse to serve me, help me and even treat me. The fear that I would be turned away from the hotel or restaurant, the taxi would refuse my fair, the shop assistant wouldn’t serve me, the doctor or nurse or dentist or podiatrist would refuse to treat me, all because I’m gay.

The Equality Bill gives me protection against that fear and I am so grateful for that, unfortunately not everyone feels the same.

Evangelical Christians didn’t like The Equality Bill even before it came into law, when it was before Parliament they were trying to get an exemption from it. Now, it seems, the right wing pundits have also turned their bile onto the Equality Bill. Following this, Melanie Phillips (A nasty bigot at the best of time) has called gays the “new McCarthyites” in a Daily Mail article (http://tinyurl.com/66g76dq) and further accused gay activists of trying to “brainwash” children (http://tinyurl.com/6ho4lv9). When challenged, she said she’d defend gays from “true prejudice” – I wonder if she even knows the meaning of the word. Then we have a Daily Mail cartoon portraying a couple as skinhead thugs with Nazi tattoos (http://tinyurl.com/659h3bl). Now, we have the former Tory Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern saying Christians should be able to act on their “consciences” and ignore The Equality Bill (http://tinyurl.com/66wqflu) – that would quickly strip us of all the protection the bill gives us.

The greatest irony is that The Equality Bill extends to sexual orientation the protection already, in law, for religion and belief. Christians are fighting to deny Lesbians and Gay Men the protections they already enjoy in law, it sounds all too familiar to my very jaundiced ear.

Drew

Sunday, 6 February 2011

It’s That Time of the Year, Again

This week saw the publication of the Nursing Standards’ Lesbian and Gay History month special. I started this blog, four years ago now, with an entry about my first Guest Editorship of the Nursing Standard, for their first Lesbian and Gay History month special.

 
It had come about as a reply to a very homophobic letter they’d received from a Christian Nurse. There was an outcry against this letter, especially from the RCN’s Out Group, who I was involved with. The upshot of this was that they ran their first Lesbian and Gay special and by a series of lucky connections, and being in the right place at the right time, I was the guest editor. It’s still one of the proudest things I’ve done, as far.

 
This year, my contribution was only a review but I’m still very glad they’re running the special. We’re seeing an increasing backlash against Lesbian and Gay equal rights, especially from many Christians. It almost feels as if anyone who stands up against homophobia is being called a “fascist” – the irony is unbelievable.

 
Healthcare, in this country, is still not the safe and prejudiced-free place it should be. There is still a lot of underhand and overt homophobia, especially among Healthcare Professionals – I know because I’ve lost count of the times I’ve witnessed it, first and second hand. This Nursing Standard special is one good step against this.

 
Drew.