In this fourth annual collection of six new works exploring the discourse of gender identity from a predominately youthful point of view, the most notable similarity is their relative contrast.
Mentored by artistic director Bruce Brown and script advisor Roy Ward, any preconceptions based on the more commonly discussed aspects of the LGBT scene are expanded and/or subverted by the evident diversity within the community. In fact it seems reductive to call it ‘a scene’; more a union of variant lifestyles, supporting each other in the face of common adversities, with a shared belief in the rights of people to love and express themselves openly without fear of condemnation.
There is of course a full existential spectrum of the human condition to be examined from the queer perspective, besides those battles against outdated bigoted attitudes that tend to dominate the conversation. We’ll know we’ve achieved real equality when that point goes without saying; in the meantime these voices rightfully continue to strive to be heard and understood by those currently still confused and threatened by them.
A case in point: in First Love by Aatir Zaidi, directed by Kat Glass, the protagonist’s homosexuality is more circumstantial than crucial to the discussion in and of itself. Adolescent Rehan (Ravi Gurunathan) has a crush on dishy biker Umair (Agustya Chandra), and dreams of reciprocation while remaining philosophical by considering the Sufist belief that love is a gift, not an expectation. Utilising an appealing shadow-theatre device, the issues of culture and sexuality are of course significant, but the enquiry into the nature of love is ultimately universal.
In Ryan McKee’s delightfully conceived Coming Out Night, directed by Adam Rohe, transgender boy Jake, nee Jess (Kyrus Watson), and his best friend and aromantic asexual Grace (Sam Wilson) resolve to come out to their respective parents. Jake’s mum (Sharon Robinson) and Grace’s dad (Hong Jian) are so willing and eager to support them within their limited, presumptuous understanding of the situation that they throw them a party, leading to a farcical sequence of awkward revelations and comical misunderstandings.
Eternity by David Blakey, directed by Ryan Thornhill, is a comparatively simple scene between older conservative gay man Andrew (Mike Howell) and his young hipster long-term casual lover Henry (David Butler). Fairly didactic in its execution, the conversation is an insightful and humorous exploration of their emotional connection. Again, the critical impasse is related more to Henry’s chosen means of income than their sexuality as such.
Prior McRae wrote and stars in Callum in the Aftermath, directed by Cole Meyers: a penetrating study of a transgender teen recovering from a bulimia episode. Reluctant to take his medicine, Callum exudes resentment and self-loathing in equal measures, indignant towards his nurse (Rhi Munro) and altercating with his wholly supportive, worried mother (Jo Clark). The stark minimalism makes it the most compellingly realistic of the six pieces.
In welcome contrast, Daddy Issues by Pedro Diegues, directed by Jake Love, is a shrewd, funny, living-room scene that plays like a mini sitcom episode. Two boyfriends, the laid-back Ray (Steven Glyde) and highly-strung Pete (Joe Nathan), return from holiday to find Ray’s father Simon (Steve Ciprian) has pretty much moved in. Divulging his relationship troubles, the crux of the matter takes some time and amusing interchanges to reach, at which point the tone turns strangely moralistic (like a sitcom), with a sudden, slightly perplexing conclusion.
Hannah Owen Wright’s Two Lovers Sit on a Park Bench Holding Hands in the Moonlight, directed by Rachael Longshaw-Park, rounds out the eclectic evening with a more stylistic conceit. A bisexual girl (Maya Watt) on a seaside date with her Aussie-boy holiday fling (Ben Black) anxiously wrestles with her inner voice on the predictability of his heterosexual notions about her sexuality. Typically, her condemnation of his apparent presumptuousness in turn betrays her own.
On the whole, these are astutely written works that manage to communicate the specifics of their culture and lifestyle to the wider audience. It’s mildly surprising that these explorations are invariably cerebral in tone, extremely light on sensual, let alone erotic expression. On reflection this is just another subverted preconception that the general mindset of the queer community is chiefly concerned with sex.
Assisted to beneficial effect by Michael Craven’s lighting and Alex Bain’s diversely curated sound design, the production elements are generally satisfactory albeit somewhat makeshift at times. There’s an evident range of performance skill and experience among the various casts as well, highlighting the project’s standing as a series of professionally mentored new works in progress. In this context the overall package is engaging and thought-provoking.
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