The Hope Theatre delivers this double bill of plays about gays: Middle Aged Rent has an ‘Older’ man (Gregory Ashton) talking us through his experiences of the life of a gay teen in the eighties, with the second act, The Diva Drag, posing the dilemma to a drag queen of whether he should attend the funeral of his homophobic mother, or just continue performing on stage in her spirit.
Ashton tells his story through the eyes of his younger self (Joseph Martin), who early on takes an airy scarf off a mannequin and drapes it around his neck. This moment of material touching skin in one of complete sincerity; it predicts a softness, perhaps a vulnerability, or a young man who has found himself but isn’t quite sure where to go. Yet, there is some sort of underlying smirk in Martin, which distracts from the innocent tones he at first portrays. Whilst instances of synchrony in the movement connect these characters as one, there’s a clumsiness in the storytelling; a lack of visual journey makes the story somewhat unclear. Ashton doesn’t manage to absorb the characters he references, or even the one that is himself, making moments of audience interaction just a little uncomfortable. There is a lack of idiosyncrasies from both performers in this piece. Whilst trying to be daring, the screeching of ‘Why haven’t you got a penis’ and ‘I am her family’, as Martin bursts to the floor, doesn’t gain the emotional build-up of character for one to empathise.
Ashton becomes much more comfortable in the second half, The Diva Drag, once slapped up with make-up and a wig and embracing a Welsh accent. He’s confident in his movement and for the first time is able to demand the focus. The floor has been scattered with clothes from his wardrobe. The story is a cross-cut between Darren/Gladys (Ashton) on stage (having taken inspiration from his mother) and the conversation between himself and his mother (Louise Jameson) as revelations about their past expose Darren’s uncertainty of whether or not he should attend her funeral.
Jameson has a face like thunder and captures our attention before she’s even lit. Contrastingly to Ashton who floats and glides, she moves with a fierce conviction; a stubborn anger which guides us through her side of the story. This allows a proper build up so that when Jameson screams, ‘Do you understand?’, we actually do. There is compassion there from the audience. Her performance is remarkably course, yet organic enough for us to sympathise. It’s a shame the piece as a whole just doesn’t live up to her performance.
Review by Joseph Winer
two short plays about gays
writer: LESLEY ROSS / director: NIGEL FAIRS
6th to 24th September 2016
7.45pm – £15/£12
Tues to Sat. No shows Sun/Mon.
From Ripley Theatre, creators of Fringe Festival Successes The New York Threesome, The Jolly Folly of Polly the Scottish Trolley Dolly & Other Mini Marvels, and The International Festival of Lilliput
TWO SHORT PLAYS ABOUT GAYS with LOUISE JAMESON, JOSEPH MARTIN & GREGORY ASHTON
Middle Aged Rent is the portrait of a teenager lost in the maze that was Eighties London, long before mobile phones, social media & Grindr. How he comes out, both literally and figuratively, is the focus of this brand new piece, specifically written to premiere at The Hope.
The Diva Drag is a bitter sweet story of love and (possible) reconciliation. Do you go to your homophobic mother’s funeral, or go onstage as her instead? Louise Jameson (Doctor Who, Eastenders, Tenko, Doc Martin) & Gregory Ashton (Being Human, Arthur’s Dyke) battle out this mother son relationship with humour, fury and disaster movie passion.