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Dumbledore Is So Gay by Robert Holtom at Southwark Playhouse

J K Rowling is a great example of someone that can go from hero to zero overnight. Originally seen as a strong ally to the LGBT+ community, they managed, in only a few tweets, to turn a lot of said community against them. However, whatever their rather outdated views on certain subjects, JK did write some wonderful books and The Harry Potter collection (books, films, and Stephen Fry CDs) have been on my shelves ever since they came out. And I don’t think I’m alone in loving the story of the little boy who was bullied for being different and then having found others like them turned their life around. This ability to realise you are not alone is something that really resonates with the hero of Robert Holtom’s one-act play Dumbledore is So Gay at Southwark Playhouse

Alex Britt - Credit David Jenson.
Alex Britt – Credit David Jenson.

In 2007, 13-year-old Jack (Alex Britt) isn’t having an easy life. A big Harry Potter fan, he took an online test and was sorted into Hufflepuff instead of Gryffindor. School is a nightmare, not only because he hates French but because he has realised that not only is he gay, but he is in love with his best friend Ollie (Martin Sarreal). Unfortunately, this presents two problems for Jack. First, as far as he knows, Ollie is straight. After all, he joins in all the ‘that’s so gay’ banter that occurs in the school – as does the closeted Jack with his other best friend Gemma (Charlotte Dowding) – and Ollie’s very macho brother routinely terrorises those he perceives as being slightly on the pink rainbow side of life. Additionally, Jack has the feeling his parents wouldn’t be too keen on having a gay son – they turn the TV over when Graham Norton is on. So, what is young Jack to do? As he gets older and leaves school, Jack decides to do something about his life, so he nicks money off his father and heads to the bright lights of G.A.Y. in London. At first, he is in his element and really enjoys the very out-there aspects of London gay life. However, things don’t work out as he wants on so many fronts. And so, like many before him, Jack ends up wishing he could turn back time and change his story. Now, there’s a thought.

I didn’t get to see Dumbledore is So Gay at the Vaults or The Pleasance, but I am so happy I’ve finally managed to experience the show. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you accept the basic premise of the story, then everything makes perfect sense and I’m sure many scenes will bring back memories, both good and bad, for many in the audience. The writing also reinforced two of my own personal prejudices. First children are not all nice, and most are actually horrible instinctively knowing how to get into someone’s mind and hurt them. Second, gay men are often the worst example of the male species. There is a scene where Jack is talking to one of the characters about some of the toxicity of the LGBT+ dating world, and it is quite rightly pointed out that it’s not the heterosexual people hurting us, it’s other members of our ‘community’. So, for me, the writing and characterisations were spot on all the way through. The script has a lot of humour and moments of high emotion and flows beautifully from start to finish.

As has been said many times before, a great script is one thing, but it needs great actors to really make it shine. And this cast is simply perfect. Alex Britt’s Jack is a lovely combination of naivety, enthusiasm, and hope over experience. As we follow Jack’s story, we see him grow as a person, responding to the world around him and, despite some trips along the way, ultimately never giving up on himself. Whilst this is Jack’s story, he does not live in a vacuum so Charlotte Dowding and Martin Sarreal play everyone else he comes into contact with. Friends, parents, teacher, hook-ups are all portrayed by these two very skilful actors. But they are not just bit parts in Jack’s story as Gina, Ollie, and Jack’s parents all have their own stories of understanding and growth over the course of the show. Whilst I loved Gina and Ollie, my favourite of the characters were Jack’s parents. His mother is friendly, hospitable, always keen to give everyone extra helpings of food, and loves picking apart the plot holes in Eastenders. His father is taciturn and unwilling to get remotely involved in anything involving emotions. Beautifully portrayed by Dowding and Sarreal, they reminded me of my own parents in way too many respects. Maybe that’s why I loved them so much.

Natalie Johnson’s set is simply beautiful to behold. A celestial blue backdrop of stars etched with gold crescent moons and clock faces along with three similarly coloured boxes, really emphasised the magical journey Jack and the others take. Tom Wright directs the three actors really well and moves them around a lot so that although the show is performed on a thrust stage, there were none of the problems usually associated with sitting on the side, as I was, and having someone block your view or not being able to see what is happening with a character facing the other side.

Dumbledore is So Gay is a fine example of telling a huge story in a single act. Considering the runtime is roughly 75 minutes, an awful lot happened, but it never felt rushed or that there were gaps. The story started and took us on a journey to a very satisfactory ending that definitely was not what I was expecting. There were major surprises on the way, and some wonderful twists mean this is not some run of the mill coming out story but is instead a celebration that although we won’t always get everything our heart desires, it doesn’t matter because every set-back is a lesson to be learned and used as a springboard for moving forward, away from the drudge of the Dursleys and into the open arms of Hogwarts.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

It ain’t easy being Jack. He got sorted into Hufflepuff using the official online quiz, hates studying French, and is in love with his best friend Ollie. Dodging bullies, keeping secrets and trying to get the guy is too much for him to take. So, he changes his story one spellbinding moment at a time in pursuit of making the world a little more magical. Maybe this time he’ll get into Gryffindor.

16 AUG – 23 SEP 2023

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