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King’s Head Theatre Queer Season: Coming Clean with A Boy Named Sue

PUBLISHED: 17:13 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:14 25 July 2017

Jason Nwoga, Tom Lambert and Lee Knight in Coming Clean at the King's Head. Picture: Paul Nicholas Dyke

Jason Nwoga, Tom Lambert and Lee Knight in Coming Clean at the King's Head. Picture: Paul Nicholas Dyke

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Queer Season returns to the King’s Head and Zoe Paskett talks LGBTQI+ theatre with Adam Spreadbury-Maher and playwright Bertie Darrell

Tom Lambert and Jason Nwoga in Coming Clean at the King's Head. Picture: Paul Nicholas Dyke Tom Lambert and Jason Nwoga in Coming Clean at the King's Head. Picture: Paul Nicholas Dyke

It has been 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK and across the country, we are celebrating with music, art, film and theatre.

This year’s Queer Season, a curated programe at the King’s Head Theatre, has been extended to a nine week run of shows to mark the anniversary and to rejoice in the most interesting and innovative LGBTQI+ theatre being performed in the UK.

“Non-heteronormative makes up a huge part of what we are here in London and I think that is underrepresented,” says artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher. “It’s a joy to be able to find beautiful pieces of theatre to address that gap between what’s available and the actual reality.”

Spreadbury-Maher is directing the headline production, Coming Clean by Kevin Elyot, which runs from July 25 to August 26. Set in Kentish Town in 1982, it follows struggling writer Tony and his partner Greg, looking at the breakdown of their relationship and discussing questions of love and fidelity.

Playwright Bertie Darrell. Picture: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro Playwright Bertie Darrell. Picture: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro

“Kevin Elyot writes about the human heart like no other playwright,” he says. “His understanding of how to look at the human heart and the human condition from multi-dimensional angles based on his characters is superb.

“I love doing shows at the King’s Head because you’ve got this freedom to be able to say yes, I’m going to work with actors who have great CVs and have been to drama school but I’m also going to work with actors who aren’t known. I’ve put together that ensemble.”

Tony is played by Lee Knight, with Jason Nwoga as Greg and William being played by Elliot Hadley, who starred in and later helped direct the successful 5 Guys Chillin’ at the King’s Head. The unknown actor of whom Spreadbury-Maher speaks is Tom Lambert, who is making his London debut: “I think he’s going to be a major discovery for us all.”

Coming Clean was the first in a line of significant works by Elyot – his final play is currently on Finsbury Park’s Park Theatre stage – and this is its first major revival since opening in the 80s.

Jack Harrold in A Boy Named Sue. Picture: Rah Petherbridge Jack Harrold in A Boy Named Sue. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

“This play is thought of to be the first mature gay play in the UK, where we have homosexuals living in a domestic style relationship without them being perverts or being demonised or victimised or pointed at.

“It was written just before AIDS and I think that’s interesting: to look at this time when the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality has settled in a way, because it was 15 years after that. So you have these characters who have known a world where it’s been illegal who have now settled into a world where it’s not.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece of writing.”

As Coming Clean was Elyot’s first, A Boy Named Sue is Bertie Darrell’s. The east London playwright enjoyed success at Edinburgh last year, which led to his debut piece being selected for the Queer Season.

Jason Nwoga and Lee Knight in Coming Clean at the King's Head. Picture: Paul Nicholas Dyke Jason Nwoga and Lee Knight in Coming Clean at the King's Head. Picture: Paul Nicholas Dyke

“I remember reading a statistic a couple of years ago saying 25 per cent of LGBT venues have shut down since 2009,” says Darrell, “so I wanted to write a play about LGBT erasure and what happens to community when physical spaces are lost.”

A Boy Named Sue is three overlapping monologues: 59 year old Ian has lived through the AIDS crisis and witnessed the scene change to involve Grindr; 15 year old Louis lies about his age online and is always yearning for the next thing; and Sue, born anatomically male, is coming to terms with her identity as a woman.

Darrell is excited to be a part of Queer Season and to get the message of his play out to LBGTQI+ and straight 
audiences alike when it shows from July 26-30.

“We have just had Pride which was obviously very important and got loads of positive attention but you kind of feel like, oh god, it’s another year until that full recognition comes again.

“In London, we exist in this bubble where obviously it’s fine to be gay, whereas as soon as you go north of the M25 so many towns aren’t going to be so accepting of that.”

We might be celebrating this anniversary, but we are celebrating in the knowledge that there is still a long way to go.

For a full programme of Queer Season, which runs from July 25 to September 23: kingsheadtheatre.com

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