New gay play The Clinic
, written by Attitude contributor Patrick Cash
, hits London next week
. Based on real-life sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street in Soho, its themes include sex, chems, apps, HIV and love. We caught up with the cast of queer actors to find out what resonated with them about this production - in their own words.
Ash (performer - Zachariah Fletcher)
We meet Ash when he feels he’s been made free by leaving home and finding this hedonistic lifestyle of drugs and sex. In fact, he’s using these things to not confront the issues he has with himself about intimacy. I think a lot of people can identify with searching for love, but maybe not in the right places.
For me it was interesting and heartwarming, if not a bit cathartic, to delve into the story behind the sad eyes of the boy that I think many of us have seen at or partied with at chillouts. Before we instantly forget him as our own reality takes precedent, trying to come back down to our day-to-day lives.
I think it’s all too easy in a world of Grindr and hook-up apps to forget the person behind the torso pic, and, when you are in the game of fast food hookups, to stop to pause and connect with someone. We’re constantly playing catchup on the chillout scene looking for the affirmation that we lacked as teenagers. Giving too much of ourselves to those that didn’t deserve it in a quest for acceptance.
Elliot (performer - Damien Killeen)
My character is Elliot, the respectable gay who came to London full of youth and moral superiority and gets firmly kicked in the ass with an HIV diagnosis. He is having trouble transitioning from a desired object to (what he views as) a damaged thing, but is at least finally opening himself to the possibility that life is more complex than good gay/bad gay.
He represents the possible growth of a person who, when confronted with some of the hard edges of the gay scene, can open his mind to empathise and learn from others, rather than lose himself in a bubble of judgement and hatred.
I instantly connected with Elliot's journey. For myself, it took an abusive relationship and giving up on life to learn that I had worth, and that my physical and mental wellbeing had worth. That was my rock bottom. For Elliot, being diagnosed positive is the moment he gives up on life. His journey in The Clinic is about learning that he has a future, and if he will ever believe he deserves one.
Ryan (performer - Stewart Who?)
In The Clinic I play Ryan, a sexual health advisor who also has expertise in substance abuse and self-esteem issues, particularly in gay men.
Much of his experience is qualified and practised, but Ryan struggled with addiction issues in the past and is now in recovery. This personal journey informs his work, lends him credibility, and also maintains his passion and interest in the topic. He may be saving others, but he’s also saving himself.
Like any healthcare professional, he has to balance (not always successfully) a professional approach with a subjective passion for both the topic and his patients.
There is much about Ryan that reflects my beliefs and experience; we’ve both nursed people with AIDS, advocated for the LGBT community and both felt fury at having fought on the front line of AIDS activism only to be faced with a less politicised younger generation.
I’ve had a trans best friend who was a bit of party girl (Shirley). Like Ryan, I feel passionately about the NHS, can remember HIV/AIDS before antiretrovirals, and believe that the problems of the LGBT community are rooted in our first experiences of how (un)comfortable we were with our sexuality at home and in school.
There are aspects of Ryan that are based on the real-life David Stuart. He’s been my friend for 20 years, so that helps. I know where the bodies are buried. I helped dig some of those graves.
Shirley (performer - Pretty Miss Cairo)
I play Shirley, the honest matriarchal figure, who runs a Vauxhall beauty clinic which acts as a sanctuary when the clubs close. Shirley offers massages for Dean Street patients to reconcile intimacy within sex and is also one of Ash’s mentors through addiction recovery.
Shirley has a history of looking after men who have battled with drug-taking with varying outcomes. She has learnt through trial and error and that sometimes it’s out of her hands, but now has a deeper-rooted understanding on how she can help these people.
I really connected with the part as, like Shirley, I have a very non judgemental attitude to drug use. Being a performer who works regularly on the club scene, I am very aware of drug-taking but understand the need for escapism. I agree strongly with a lot of the sentiments in the play, such as 'relapsing isn’t failing'.
Being a part of the LGBTQIA scene and doing this play is important for me as it’s essential that we as a community discuss these issues quite frankly, without judgement.
Jason (performer - Matthew Hodson)
I guess that Jason is the villain of the piece. He says and does some pretty shocking things. But despite the terrible way he behaves it’s clear to me that, just like the other characters in the play, he’s been damaged by life and is responding to the challenges he faces the only way he knows how.
What I found really exciting about the play is that it’s very much about London now. HIV is still hugely stigmatised, but it’s no longer a killer. The characters talk about PEP and Grindr and whether there is still such a thing as a gay community. Unlike a lot of drama that touches upon HIV, it all feels like it’s looking at the same issues that we all still grapple with.
At GMFA, where I work, we’re dealing with many of the complexities of gay life: how do we find intimacy when sex is just a swipe away? Is it possible to take chems and remain safe and sane? What does sexual safety mean in the era of effective treatment, PEP and PrEP? How do those of us who lived through the 80s and early 90s honour those that we lost to AIDS?
The Clinic deals with these issues too, so I was excited to have the opportunity to be a part of it.
The Clinic plays at the King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, N1 1QN, from Monday 24th - Saturday 29th August, 9.15pm (Monday 8pm). £15 (£13 concs).
To book tickets click here.