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Is The Pride's revival part of a Gay Enlightenment?

{author #patrick}

Celebrations and Deliberations

Alexi Kaye Campbell's Olivier Award-winning play The Pride is on tour following a West End run this summer, after premiering at the Royal Court in 2008.  Hailed as 'brilliant, vibrant and ingenious' by The Times, The Pride examines changing attitudes to sexuality over a period of 50 years, looking at intimacy, identity and the courage it takes to be who you really are.

The timing of the revival seems very appropriate amidst the passing of gay marriage legislation in England and Wales, in European countries and across mutiple states in the United States.  Whilst this cultural shift in transformed opinion regarding gay rights dominates the Western hemisphere, the subjugation and repression of the LGBT community in Russia serves as stark reminder that huge progress is still needed elsewhere in the world.

Gay Rights in Russia

The repression of the gay community in Russia takes the form of banning gay material which is considered propaganda.  Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses states:

Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that:
1) is aimed at the creating non-traditional sexual attitudes
2) makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive
3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations
4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

Individuals engaging in such propaganda can be fined anywhere from 4000 rubles (£78) up to 1,000,000 rubles (£20,000).  With the average Russian salary standing at around £490 per month, it is not difficult to see how damaging this law could be especially to those families and parents who have gay children and are unable to educate them about sexuality.1

No chance then of seeing The Pride anytime soon in Moscow.

How the theatre industry has changed

What has been really interesting for me, both as a gay man and as a theatre industry professional, is to see the influx of gay themed productions hitting the West End and Fringe over the past decade. When I first stepped foot in London back in 2002, homosexuality was still rather a taboo subject and Soho seemed a very different place - there was a real sense of everything still being underground.  The shift that has occured since then - both culturally and politcally - has come at such a pace that it is worth taking a step back sometimes and assessing the huge progress that has been made.

Perhaps this gay theatre influx of recent times is an organic reflection of this rapid change rather than it simply being fashionable or commercial.  I think there is a huge cultural interest in the gay rights movement given the political strides since 2010.  Audiences, straight, gay or anything in between, have a vested interest in understanding more about this culture.

Plays in the gay canon

Two notable political contributions to the gay theatre canon are 8 by Dustin Lance Black and Sochi by Tess Berry-Hart.  8 is a verbatim piece dealing with the the federal trial which overturned Proposition 8 in California and attracted a star studded cast including Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen and George Clooney.  Sochi was written in response to the much publicized anti-gay laws introduced by the Russian Government and premiered at the Kings Head Theatre.  Both productions represent a rich societal interest in the rights of gay and lesbian citizens.

Aside from these overtly political pieces, we have had a rich tapestry of gay themed plays blanketing the theatre scene recently: Privates On Parade, La Cage Aux Folles, Blowing Whistles, To Be Straight With You, Now or Later, Wig Out!, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Little Dog Laughed, Holding The Man, Love The Sinner, Cock, Naked Boys Singing, Studies For A Portrait and of course The Pride.

Gay-producing theatre

In addition to this, London is fortunate enough to have a gay-producing theatre with Above The Stag which unfortunately was forced into temporaryhiatus when their Victoria venue was demolished as part of the ongoing development work in the area.  They currently reside in Mile End and rumour has it that they have their sights set on a Vauxhall venue. 

Above The Stag champion the need for a dedicated space for the development of new writing but, as Ajesh Patalay wrote in The Guardian,

I think the point that Ajesh is making is that if we are producing gay shows, the subject matter should be engaging for everyone who is watching it.  An audience, gay or straight, should be able to see the overriding theme of humanity rather than it simply being a play for someone else

Playwright Michael Twaits puts it eloquently: 

The Enlightenment

We are now in a place where gay theatre is no longer taboo or relegated to clubhouses in the suburbs - it's everywhere from the fringes to the West End and to Broadway.  The audience attendance and reaction to The Pride this year is a huge testament to the continuing and burgeoning enlightenment and understanding of the 21st century collective consciousness.  A collective consciousness which is ridding itself of the Victorian shackles which have plagued it and poisoned it.  I think people are finally coming to realise that diversity should be celebrated and appreciated as it forms a rich arras of experience from which we can all learn and profit.

We delved more into the issue of gay plays and, in particular, The Pride with our interview with Al Weaver from the production.  Al had a particularly interesting take on the issues as a straight man who has played a plethora of gay parts.  In The Pride he plays a gay children's author and travel writer in 1958, and his more commercially-minded and badly-behaved journalist counterpart in 2013. The title of the play itself, The Pride, is polysemous: 'aligning dignity in society-induced suppression with the out-gay defiance on the contemporary streets, and these two themes characterise the interwoven time-scales of the late 1950s and the present day. In both strands, a triangular relationship of two gay men, Oliver and Philip, and the woman, Sylvia, they both love is first vitiated by the "pride" of the buttoned-up 1950s and later by post-Aids promiscuity.'

(WARNING: Contains strong language)