As new gay play Queers hits the King’s Head Theatre in November, director Luke Davies (pictured) talks about the necessity and vitality of producing queer theatre:
Over the past couple of months I’ve directed two shows written by Pat Cash: The Clinic (a play about chemsex) and a series of LGBTQI+ monologues called Queers, opening at the King’s Head at the end of the month. The hot controversy is that I’m a straight man.
In truth, I’m pretty uneasy about aligning myself with male straight culture in this way. When I try to mentally picture what straight culture is, I think of Burton Menswear, Sussex-based soft rock group Keane, Watford Oceana, Top Gear and the word “banter”. I feel physically sick, basically.
And even if I was willing to accept my heterosexual brethren – the narrowness of the category “straight” is something that I also have a problem with. Let me admit it – I developed a crush on a boy during a year eight production of Oklahoma! True, he was playing Ado Annie and wore a very convincing padded bra – but the fact remains that he titilated me nearly as much as Lene from Aqua had done only months previously, in what was probably my first true love. In all seriousness, I do think it’s a sad fact that men who on balance prefer women aren’t permitted to acknowledge that they exist on a spectrum without it being inferred that they’re closeted. And I think that a rigid straight / gay binary does little to help overcome that.
But my biggest issue with identifying as straight is that it sets up a needless division. If you think that Amanda Knox is innocent, or if you think it’s acceptable to eat supermarket-bought prawn cocktail sandwiches – then really, there’s a lot that separates you from me. Sexual orientation, contrarily, isn’t something I think that there’s a big need for us to consider ourselves as markedly different over.
Obviously some aspects of gay / straight division are healthy. There’s so much about heteronormative culture that is ugly and blinkered, and the way in which queer culture and queer activism has forced a greater recognition of that fact is undeniably good. Also I sort of baulk at that insipid liberal notion of a homogenised culture where all our differences are obliterated.
But I do think that if our thinking about sexuality was less rigidly demarcated, and if there was a greater appreciation of how in the end it doesn’t matter all that much – then not only would this be more truthful, but it would also be a way of combatting prejudice, ignorance and disunity.
Working on these plays I’ve been acutely aware of the causes of the division between the LGBTQI+ community and heteronormative culture. Queer culture has its own narratives – many of which have been created by the non-acceptance and failures of the rest of society. But this – it seems to me – makes it all the more important that the so-called straight community hear stories about the Gay Liberation Front, Section 28 and transphobia (all themes touched on in Queers). The conspicuous absence of gay love stories in mainstream media and theatre is also something that needs reckoning with. On top of this, major issues affecting the gay community – like chemsex – are often just not known about by most straight people. Anything that can be done to redress this balance seems to me to be a good thing – and an obvious starting point is to relax the definitions of identity politics a little bit and to collaborate together.
Of course it’s easy for me to say this kind of thing as a heterosexual male – and I’ve no doubt that there are some who would object to me as some kind of interloper, patronisingly offering to bridge the gap between two cultures. But I haven’t encountered that point of view working on these projects. And the fact is that as a director I don’t do very much, anyway. Sometimes someone doesn’t know how to pronounce a simple word (like “canapé”), or sometimes you get an actor who just likes standing in front of other actors so that no-one else can see them.
But whilst I’m under no illusions about the significance of my input personally, I do think that there is some serious potential value in the inclusion of people from outside the gay community in the act of telling stories about the gay community. In that spirit I’m very grateful for the existence of events like the Gay/Straight alliance – being hosted this week by the Dean Street Wellbeing Programme. The hope with projects like this is that we can work towards a point where everyone is working together to tackle issues of greater importance than the gender of the people we’re fucking – like HIV in Africa, and diversity education in schools (both issues to be discussed at tomorrow’s event).
Politics aside – from a selfish point of view, it’s been a real joy working on The Clinic and Queers. And anything that gets me out of Burton jeans and Watford Oceana is a definite plus.
Words by LUKE DAVIES
info: Queers begins at the King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, N1 1QN on Saturday 31st October at 2.30pm, and runs on selected dates until 22nd November. £12 (£10 concs) For dates, times and to book tickets, click here.