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Review of XPOSED – LGBTQ+ New Writing Night Hen & Chickens Theatre

Fluid (Jack O'Neill)
Fluid (Jack O’Neill)

There are times when I really wish I could write. Not these reviews but something worthwhile. They say everybody has a book inside of them but I’ve yet to find mine. As for writing a play, fat chance. Maybe that is why I enjoy nights such as Xposed which was a new writing night of eight short plays at the Hen & Chickens Theatre.

The evening started with a play called Fluid, written by Nick Maynard, Directed by Shafeeq Shajahan and performed by Jack O’Neill. This was a monologue with Jack’s character being a rough, ‘chavy’ boy from Bolton on a stage supposedly performing a rap for the eager audience – which included his mum, brother, girlfriend and friends. Only our lad has other ideas and is going to use this opportunity to tell everyone something that he has been hiding.

Immediately the play started, my thoughts turned to “oh great, another coming out play”, but no, the writer was far cleverer and more subtle than that. This story was deeper and really revolved around the question of is there a difference between having sex and making love? The short answer is yes, definitely and Jack’s character really goes into some detail about why and how it is different. The language is quite graphic and thanks to the delivery, also much more erotic than you would have thought. A lot of this is due to Jack’s performance which feels exceptionally real and powerful in his use of tone and language to get his point across. A great start to the show.

Next up was Stars by DJ Sylvis, Directed by Edwina Strobl and performed by Tris Hobson and Jack Doyle. A tale of two people in love though they live thousands of miles apart from each other and have never met. But the two of them have an open sky full of the wonders of the universe above them and this really brings them together in a very gentle but at the same time really romantic way. Over a late night phone conversation, they discuss the stars and planets kidding each other in a soppy but loveable way as the stars shine above them.

Stars was a big change after Fluid and worked really well as a play in its own right. The story was very gentle and the two actors really seemed to work well together in bringing this long distance romance to life. I loved the starfield but my one criticism is that neither character had a phone in their hand which just really stood out as a strange anomaly in the staging . Even a fake one that lit up would have been good. However, ultimately, this was a really nice play.

Number three and it’s monologue time again with Angus Fisher’s The Scene directed by Chris Davis and performed by Freddie Wintrip. This is the story of a young lad on a gap year who on a trip to Bangkok, decides to go a little bit wild.

All the way through this play, I kept wondering how a boy as naive as Freddie’s character managed to cross the road by himself, let alone travel round the world. This was a really typical, shallow, twinkie gay guy who seemed to walk into situations with his eyes shut then be surprised when they went wrong. Whilst Freddie played him extremely well, I really had no empathy with him and at the end, was not that worried about where he went from now on.

Finishing the first half was, what turned out to be my favourite play of the evening One Night Fran by Adam Szudrich, performed by Olivia Davies, Reena Lalbihari and Tori Louis. This is the story of three women, all of whom go on a date with Fran. The three dates are virtually the same but each woman sees her time with Fran in a completely different way.

Oh, this was perfection. The writing was excellent, the direction gentle but perfect and the acting brilliant. There was a lovely lyrical quality to the three stories, told as interweaving monologues, that just worked perfectly. The twists at the end of the story were nicely timed and performed, leaving me, for one, really wanting to know what happened next when the lights went down. Awesome.

After the interval and we were back with Mark Daniels’ play Something About Billy. Directed by Jake Leonard and performed by David K Whiting, Katharine Jee and Daniella Finch, Something About Billy was a really nice story centred around Billy’s 21st birthday meal with his family. Before he arrives, Billy’s mum gets to the restaurant early as she has some news to impart to Billy’s dad about their son.

So, yes, Something About Billy is a ‘coming out play’ but it was a really lovely one. I loved the reaction from Kevin, the father, on being told – in a pretty blunt way – by his wife that their son was gay. Although my father took the news reasonably well when it was broken to him, I think that internally, his reaction was probably the same as Kevin’s internally. I also really loved Billy’s mum Michelle and her tactics of winding up her husband by repeating a certain phrase that I couldn’t possibly mention here. There was a nice chemistry between the two parents and overall, this was a heartwarming story told in a really amusing and enjoyable way.

Gold Star (left Beth Eyre ,right Roseanna Frascona)
Gold Star (left Beth Eyre ,right Roseanna Frascona)

Next up was Gold Star written by Roisin Moriarty, directed by Will Maynard and performed by Roseanna Frascona and Beth Eyre. The story of two ladies on a first date, Gold Star was a really interesting approach to a subject that, even now seems to plague the LGBT+ community, that of bi-phobia. Although I, like most people, didn’t identify with many of the comments being thrown around, unfortunately, they were all ones that I have heard round the LGBT+ community at one time and another. Overall, Gold Star confused me slightly. On a personal level, no matter how much attraction I felt for someone, I would have ended the date relatively quickly if they had spouted as many negative and at times ignorant statements that were presented by someone supposedly trying to impress on a first date. So, although I wasn’t keen on the scenario, I was impressed that the subject was raised and that for every negative point, there was a positive. The two actors looked and sounded good together, and although not entirely my cup of tea, the whole production was well put together and very thought provoking.

On to our penultimate play. Written by David Hendon, The Temp is a tale of unrequited and forbidden infatuation as Russell (Derek Murphy) falls hook line and sinker for the new office temp, Tom. Unfortunately for Russell, there is nothing he can do about things as not only is he closeted at work, he is also a married man and somehow he doesn’t think his wife would approve of his lustful thoughts over Tom. Coulda business trip to Manchester be the catalyst Russell needs to be free?

The Temp was an interesting piece. Delivered as a monologue, Russell’s story probably resonates with a number of men of a certain age who have allowed their lives to be dictated by convention and have ended up living a life that isn’t of their choosing. It is impossible not to feel sorry for Russell, though he never portrays himself as a victim. I have to admit I guessed the ending about halfway through but even so, I really felt for Russell when it happened. A nicely written piece, well directed by Sam Luffman and portrayed exceptionally well by Derek Murphy.

Finally, to end the night it was the turn of Oakley Flanagan to present their play Pray Your Wings Will Carry You. In a loud gay bar Curtis (Hassan Govia) meets Gabby (Josh Enright). The two of them hit it off and a night of passion follows. Curtis considers himself all man and sexually he takes on the traditional male role, whilst he treats Gabby – who identifies as non-binary – as a woman in the bedroom. This leads to friction and Curtis is confronted with examining the role he has assumed and the preconceptions he has formed about people’s places in theworld of love and sex.

Pray Your Wings Will Carry You (left Hassan Gavia, right Josh Enright)
Pray Your Wings Will Carry You (left Hassan Gavia, right Josh Enright)

A really powerful play to end on, Pray Your Wings Will Carry You tackles the subject of male/female/non-binary in a forthright and thought provoking way that is bound to get people talking in the bar afterwards. I’m pretty ‘right-on’ when it comes to the LGBT+ community but I inwardly made the same assumptions as Curtis when it came to assigning roles in the bedroom for these two, and it was really great to have these ideas – which I didn’t really realise I had – challenged in this way. The two actors circled each other beautifully – thanks to some lovely movement by Director Alex Prescot and the story flowed nicely from their initial meeting to the final moment as they looked towards… what? Well that was left for the audience to make their mind up.

Xposed was a really well curated evening by Full Disclosure Theatre with a great assortment of plays that, while centred around the LGBT+ community, covered a myriad of different themes. It was great to see subjects like men who sleep with men for pleasure, bi-phobia and non-binary genders being tackled in real style. My one gripe with this and similar events is that you rarely, if ever see a play that is about older, less perfectly formed gay men. Maybe this is because all the writers are younger people but I do worry that, to an outsider, most of these plays – with the exception of One Night Fran – made it look as if the life of gay people ends when their youth fails. Still this is a minor moan and probably says a lot more about me than anyone associated with the production.

Overall though, the evening was highly enjoyable and, as these events always do, reminded me forcibly of how much talent there is in the fields of writing, directing and acting out there and how many stories are waiting to be told.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

About XPOSED:
XPOSED takes place on 19 and 20 November at the Hen and Chickens Theatre, near Highbury and Islington station. The night will feature eight plays by eight emerging writers, and you can read more about each one below:

Fluid by Nick Maynard
Directed by Shafeeq Shajahan
Now everyone’s equal and everyone’s the same. But some of us don’t want to be the same. What happens in a post-gay world when sexuality becomes fluid?

Stars by D.J. Sylvis
Directed by Edwina Strobl
A conversation between two universe-crossed lovers who’ve never met, brought closer by the stars that surround them both.

The Scene by Angus Fisher
Directed by Chris Davis
This trip to Bangkok won’t be forgotten anytime soon. A tale about what happens when you mix love, sex and alcohol.

One Night Fran by Adam Szudrich
Directed by Sepy Baghaei
When three women go on separate dates with Fran, they see the same things in very different ways.

Something About Billy by Mark Daniels
Directed by Jake Leonard
Michelle has something to tell Kevin about their son Billy. A comedy about coming out to a traditional, working-class family.

Gold Star by Roisin Moriarty
Directed by Will Maynard
To some, squishy bits are irrelevant. To others, they’re all that matter. A primary school teacher gives her date a light-hearted lesson in acceptance.

The Temp by David Hendon
Directed by Sam Luffman
Russell becomes infatuated with office newcomer Tom – he just hasn’t told his wife. A weekend away at a conference offers Russell the chance to confront who he is.

Pray Your Wings Will Carry You by Oakley Flanagan
Directed by Alex Prescot
A chance encounter in a gay bar becomes an examination of the roles we play in sex and love

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