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Member

memberpresspixI grew up in Sydney. I recall studying World War II in the western suburbs like it was a distant memory. I recall hearing about the Holocaust as if it was a side note to the war at school and at home as if it were an isolated and unrepeatable atrocity. I don’t recall ever contemplating whether such inhumanity could be perpetrated in the Sydney I lived in: it was simply beyond my conception.
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And yet, on so many nights when my parents tucked me safely into bed, men were beaten or murdered on the other side of the city because they were gay. The proximity of the horror is sobering. And it’s proximity that makes Member such a deeply moving piece of theatre.
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The protagonist is Corey, and we encounter him in an emergency ward, by the side of his adult son, who has been severely beaten. Encouraged by a pretty nurse to talk to his son, Corey describes a moment in his childhood that shaped his understanding of gay men, and determined his response to his son’s coming out.
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Ben Noble, who plays Corey in this one man show, delivers a brilliant, raw performance with his gut-wrenching script. He evokes a broad range of characters, many of them recognisable as archetypes and deftly held back from becoming stereotypes.
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Fairly Lucid Productions have failed, in this intstance, to live down to the standard their name describes. Indeed, the clarity with which this performance delivers its punch is amazing. I found it particularly difficult to walk out into the merriment of the bar, where everyone seemed oblivious to the horror that was just brought to life for us. I’ve long thought Sydney an ugly city with a heart of gold, but the Sydney I stumbled back into after seeing Member felt every bit as nasty as her neglected streetscapes have always looked.
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For me, the proximity of this story to my childhood home is deeply troubling. It further upsets my memory of what I perceived as a relatively tolerant and diverse society. But it also reminds us, and I think this is the intention of the title, that we are members of this society, and the responsibility for change rests with us.
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Plays like this are why theatre matters.
 
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Posted by on Saturday, 25 February 2017 in Blood Moon Theatre, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

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Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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Scandalous Boy

scandalous boyScandalous Boy is a brave piece of work with the ostensible objective of realigning western perspectives on homosexual love. It makes its point very clearly, and possibly succeeds as a polemic, but largely fails to deliver the pathos I yearn for from the stage.

It is principally the true story of the love between the emperor Hadrian, and Antinous, his Greek eromenos, but it is framed in a twenty-first century setting with the statue of Antinous coming to life in modern Australia to tell his story. He wants to assert for us that he is not the “shameless and scandalous boy” Christian historians have claimed he was, and assert the appropriateness of his choices and actions in a pre-Christian Roman Empire. He punctuates this by comparing modern and ancient attitudes to public nudity, but kindly dons a pair of sequined hotpants to relieve our discomfort.

Yes, it’s one of those history plays. Set in ancient Rome, but using the language of modern Australia, replete with references to Hollywood’s Golden Age and punctuated with the homo-pop vocals of Kylie Minogue and the like. Had I realised it was one of those, I may well have opted for Supa‘s production of La Cage aux Folles for my Golden Drink Voucher expenditure this week, but that’s just the way the marble crumbles I guess. It nonetheless delivers a striking story that is valuable for a modern audience and finely pointed as a polemic for an Australian government struggling to follow its people’s leadership.

David Atfield’s script unfortunately doesn’t deliver the emotional punch necessary to make this story fully relatable. The dialogue feels forced and its distinctive modern vernacular doesn’t help as much as I think Atfield hoped it would.

But I think the greatest fault lies in the narration. It leaves no space whatsoever for subtext. Every thought, every motivation, every thing the characters don’t say, is described to us, rather than shown to us. There is simply no space for intuition, and this, mounted so firmly in an Australian context, makes the play feel just too preachy.

Surprisingly, though, this doesn’t completely ruin the play. The characters retain some capacity for engagement and I really did care what happened to them, I just wanted to care more. I wanted to feel their pain rather than merely being aware of it.

Had Atfield followed the Golden Rule and shown us, rather than told us, I think perhaps this would be a very moving play that could, perhaps, just change a mind or two. As it is, it is simply affirming of the LGBTIQ polemic in an Australia that still discriminates between loves.

The character of the audience left no doubt in my mind that, on the night I went at least, Atfield was preaching to the choir (if you’ll pardon the Christian metaphor). The audience, well over 90% male, seemed to hurl itself outside at interval so they could all suck back a cancer stick; I have never seen The Street Theatre’s foyer so empty during interval with a full house! And on their return one of them was kind enough to call out “okay, quiet now” for us as the lights dimmed, because apparently none of us knew what that meant.

The unfortunate reality is that too much of the audience was probably attracted by the promise of the naked Ethan Gibson, and while they may be encouraged by this polemic to fight for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, I just think that the story deserves a more diverse audience than this is likely to attract.

Regardless of my misgivings, I am grateful to David Atfield, his cast and the creatives behind this brave production for staging it. Antinous’s story is one that should be told more often.

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What the critics are saying:

 
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Posted by on Friday, 21 November 2014 in Canberra Theatre, Street 1, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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