The UK’s first openly gay play opens at the Kings Head Theatre for Queer Season
PUBLISHED: 17:00 05 August 2016
Writer and artist Colin Spencer talks about his play at the Kings Head Theatre, 50 years after its controversial opening
“It’s amazing in the last 50 years how radically society has changed in their attitudes.
“If someone told me then that two people of the same gender could get married, I’d never have believed it.”
Colin Spencer was born out of time. An inspired and progressive playwright, novelist, painter and historian, he has made waves in the art world in more ways than one, and outraged more than a few people.
Having published nine novels, written seven plays and painted artworks that hang in the private collections of Germaine Greer and Melvin Bragg, Spencer believes that it is responsibility to portray truths through his work.
As part of the King’s Head Theatre’s Queer Season, Spencer’s controversial play Spitting Image is to show throughout August, in the first major revival since it first ran.
Acknowledged to be the UK’s first openly gay play, Spitting Image follows the fallout when couple Gary and Tom conceive a child in sixties London.
The play received some positive feedback during its opening run at the Hampstead Theatre Club; it was when it moved to the West End that public opinion turned.
“West End audiences are somewhat different to the audiences you get at more experimental theatres,” says Spencer. “Outrage, distaste and nausea. They were all hiding a homophobic attitude – well, barely hiding it – because it was produced only about a year after everything was made legal.”
Spencer has never been afraid of articulating his own sexual orientation, even at a time when relationships between two men were not only frowned upon by a large proportion of society, but forbidden by law.
It wasn’t until 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalised.
“My sexual nature is more at home in this society than the one that existed when I was young. I’ve always identified as bisexual.”
Spencer decries a widespread notion that bisexuality is phase saying that this is “something that some of the straight society clings to because they find it comforting, especially with children in adolescence.
“I’m very happy to see now younger people being openly bisexual.
“In the classical world, everyone was and nobody made a fuss about it. There weren’t words for homosexuality and heterosexuality because they didn’t distinguish between them.
“Human nature does not change in 2000 years.”
Spitting Image was seen to be too controversial to publish back in the sixties, making it almost impossible to find.
The King’s Head Theatre artistic director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher went on “an incredible journey” to unearth the script, eventually locating it in Oscar Lewenstein’s personal archive at the V&A.
“It soon became clear that Colin Spencer’s brilliant play was crying out for a revival,” says Spreadbury-Maher.
“I’m absolutely delighted to present it to a whole new generation of theatre-goers.”
Despite being now based in Brighton, ex-Islington resident Spencer has been to watch the rehearsals and advise the director Gareth Corke.
“I think they’re doing a brilliant job,” Spencer says. “I’m really excited about this production because in a sense it’s more political than the first one.
“We had to subdue the politics: the depiction of a shocked and fascist society. I think it’s now a bit freer and truer.”
Despite obvious success in many areas, Spencer admits to feeling like a failure when it comes to playwriting.
“I did feel that in a sense the plays were too political but people didn’t take them that seriously because they were funny.
“I sometimes wish I’d written plays that were a bit more like my novels – about human relationships – they never seemed to work.
“I felt I could do anything and I’m not sure that’s really true.”
Colin Spencer’s body of work would definitely declare otherwise.
Spitting Image runs until August 27 at the King’s Head Theatre.