‘Queer’. Forget ‘LGBT’, or so The Gay Agenda, the first of eight short-plays in this edition of XPOSED, Full Disclosure Theatre’s ongoing series of showcases of new writing, would have the audience believe. The term ‘queer’ is broader and more inclusive, says Sam (Michelle Pittoni), though Joshua (Russell Anthony) cannot bring himself to agree, presumably because of the derogatory use of the term in the past – and, to a certain extent, in the present. There’s Omar (Manish Gandhi), who apologises profusely for being late to a meeting where the participants are to discuss what topics should be focused on. It was not clear to me whether the organisers of the meeting were a government body or a charity, but each of the three reveals their backstories. They do eventually get around to putting some items forward, though it appears the characters, who have never met before, come away with a better understanding of how life is for people of a different demographic to their own.
How We Love sees Regi (Ramat Sandra Musa) and Babs (Joey Akubeze) meet at Regi’s place, which just so happens to be in Lewisham. It’s clear they have known each other for some time, and their mannerisms and Nigerian accents rather reminded me of the occasional Nollywood movie I’ve come across. It’s not long, for instance, before Regi kisses her teeth. Both characters are in same-sex relationships, which is fine in London, but ‘back home’, completely different rules apply: same-sex intercourse is illegal throughout Nigeria, and in certain northern states, the maximum penalty is death by stoning. The absurdity of court proceedings is portrayed well by Regi – ‘evidence’ is not only in inverted commas, but it would seem the accused is guilty before proven innocent. Humorous and harrowing in equal measure.
Romeo and Jules was a more enjoyable play than I had expected it to be: more fool me for judging a play by its title. I often think a modern reinterpretation of an older play isn’t as engaging as a more faithful production would be – and, especially for an evening of new writing, why not just write a new play that doesn’t draw heavily on a previous one? Brought up-to-date, this is best enjoyed by those with some knowledge of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Romeo (Ben Carter-James) is practising the “But soft, what light from yonder window breaks?” declaration (Act II Scene II, lines 2-6) when he is interrupted by Jules (Jamie Foulkes), who would like him to kindly stop shouting. It turns out they have met before, in what becomes a fairly typical modern-day story about meeting in a gay bar. This play does ask an interesting question, though: why, indeed, does a young lady like Juliet, who does not appear to suffer from any physical condition that would require a live-in nurse, have one?
Family Tree seemed quite crude at first, and it was only partway through the play that I realised why Rachel and Fiona (Fleur de Wit and Jennifer Oliver) were discussing the personal attributes of a number of men. On one level, it was quite a shallow dialogue – one man has two children, and other has only one, because his wife decided one was enough, and so on. It transpires this same-sex couple is actually trying to decide which man should be their sperm donor for the child they wish to have. But with no pre-prepared criteria, the informal discussion rambles on somewhat longer than it should, so they come up with a rather crude method to choose between the remaining desirable options. Different colour wrappings in a box of Quality Street represent different donors. Close your eyes, put your hand in the box and pick one. It’s rather laughable, really, but fair play to them for coming to a quick decision.
Oh! You Pretty Things included some music, ably performed by Phil Grainger and Alex Brain. Amy (Emily McGlynn) is trying to perk up Ryan (Miles Walker), who says he’s ‘okay’ but in Amy’s world, merely ‘okay’ merely means one is breathing, like scuba divers who gesture showing the index finger and thumb touching to make a circle to signify they are ‘okay’. He remains pensive, not saying very much, bottling up something, and it is only in reading the programme that I figured out what was going on with him. It wasn’t the first time during the evening that the idea of two people of different genders having a fake straight ‘relationship’ came up, and it is a stark reminder of how far there is still to go to achieve proper equality for everyone in modern society.
Virtue was an intriguing play. While some find religion of any variety irrelevant in this day and age, for some, it is still a pertinent topic. There are plenty of Free Churches in London, and even Church of England attendance has been on the rise in the capital. Here, Kemi (Ewa Dina) is having her hair done by Aaliyah (Honey Gabriel). Aaliyah is a regular at her local church and signs up to the traditional beliefs about love and forgiveness. Civilised conversation continues for some minutes, before Kemi eventually tests the waters. “Women are more aesthetically pleasing than men,” she muses. Aaliyah tries to suggest Kemi may be ‘coming out’ to her, though the tables are swiftly returned, as a mutual friend, Nicole, has told Kemi ‘everything’. The audience is not told specifically what is meant by ‘everything’, though it is strongly implied that Aaliyah has something to hide from her family and fellow parishioners in the form of a same-sex relationship.
Skin(ny), the sole solo performance of the evening, sees Carl (Dominic Jones) wanting to go off to New York. I have no idea what the significance of Carl popping a pink balloon at the start of the monologue was, so I looked it up afterwards. Allegedly, whilst dreaming, a balloon popping “represents disappointing embarrassment or dashed hopes”. The show ends on a cliff-hanger so it is difficult to confirm or deny this assertion. Carl talks about his friend Ben, also interested in men, and his mum, and his best friend Becky, who happens to be straight. It’s a clever play, covering a wide range of topics quite deeply in such a short space of time, from eating disorders, peer pressure, body image and an episode of homophobic abuse Carl once experienced on the upper deck of a commuter bus. Totally engrossing, it was one of those plays that I didn’t want to end.
She’s Fit, Just Kiss Her starts off with a dramatization of the play’s title, and for a nanosecond I wondered if that was it. Layla (Rosie-Lea Sparkle) kisses Rosie (Georgina Armfield), but before one thing leads to another Rosie calls a halt. Before long she tells her date, “I’m warning you, I have a rape alarm in my bag”, and there is some affinity, even if it takes a while to come through, between two characters who are both experiencing something new. But a date night is a date night, and whether ‘straight’ or ‘queer’ or anything else, why wouldn’t a date night end in some bedroom activity? Given the heavier themes and topics brought out in preceding plays, this one came across as an exploration of first world problems but judging by the reactions from some in the audience, the play had clearly resonated with some who remember the first time they found themselves in the arms of someone of the same gender as them.
Overall, then, this was an eclectic mix of plays that intrigued and inspired. Sometimes these evenings of new writings feel like ‘homework’. Sometimes it is difficult to tell what exactly is going on. Sometimes there’s one play in the collection that jarred with almost everything else, or otherwise clearly needs more development. Not here at XPOSED. A wonderful night of engaging performances: full marks.
Review by Chris Omaweng
About XPOSED (November 2018):
The third XPOSED will take place from 7pm on Sunday 4th November at Southwark
Playhouse, a short walk from Elephant & Castle station. The night will feature eight plays
by eight emerging writers, and you can read more about each one below:
The Gay Agenda by Freya Jackson
Directed by Paul Anthoney
Three representatives have been invited to work together to create the gay agenda for the
Virtue by Stella Ajayi
Directed by Brigitte Adela
Aaliyah loves God. And sex. But is it possible to be Queer, Black and Christian?
Oh! You Pretty Things by Rachel Harper
Directed by Alex Howarth
Dying’s easy and living’s hard, when accepting yourself is impossible. Ryan can’t face life
anymore and Amy can’t face life without him.
Family Tree by Colette Cullen
Directed by Lizzie Fitzpatrick
Rachel and Fiona have a big decision to make. They want to have a baby. But how to
choose a sperm donor?
Romeo and Jules by Ron Burch
Directed by Timothy Allsop
When Romeo calls on Juliet at her balcony with words of love, “Star-crossed” gets a new
How We Love by Annette Brook
Directed by Robbie Taylor Hunt
Babs visits his best friend, and fellow Nigerian, Regi in London. They hatch a plan to fool
the authorities back home, about who they really are.
Skin(ny) by David Hendon
Directed by Sammy Glover
It’s Carl’s birthday, but he’s not celebrating. And he’s not eating. At the age of 21, it’s time
to confront what’s making him unhappy.
She’s Fit, Just Kiss Her by Jessica Revell
Directed by Pollyanna Newcombe
When you kiss a girl, you’ll know if you’re gay, bi or whatever. Right? Layla has invited
Rosie back to hers. What could go wrong?
Full Disclosure website: www.fulldisclosuretheatre.co.uk
Sunday 4 November 2018
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD
7pm start: 130 minutes including an interval