How would you have coped 50 years ago, when a quick peck on the cheek from your boyfriend at the train station would have resulted in your being arrested? Or if confiding the truth about your sexuality to loved ones could have been resulted in your being institutionalised?
As much as we, as an LGBT community, complain about double standards and discrimination, we must remember that life for us is considerably easier than it was for the older generation. A new play at the Drill Hall in Soho explores what it was like to be gay at a time when it was far from acceptable to society.
Ben Buratta directs Front Room, the latest production from Outbox LGB Theatre, a company that specialises in sharing the stories from the LGBT community. He and his company have received funding for three years of productions from the Big Lottery Fund – quite a feat at a time when many arts organisations are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Buratta comes across as a young, but keen director who is clearly passionate about his craft. ‘I’ve really enjoyed the journey this show has taken us on,’ he shares. ‘It’s come together so quickly. The stories we explore are phenomenal and the cast, have been great to work with.’
The Front Room explores ‘the lack of connection between older LGBT people and younger generations,’ he says. ‘I started out by conducting some research and then interviews with 25 people who all faced a variety of issues dealing with their sexuality in the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. Some of the stories they shared were incredible; they were really moving in describing some of the discrimination they encountered. Our cast, which is made up of entirely LGBT performers, watched all of these interviews and then we workshoped and improvised a number of pieces that either reflected these harrowing experiences or were a reaction to what we’d seen.’
‘The whole cast were able to contribute to the direction of the performance; in fact, many of them were able to draw on their own experiences of discrimination. Jodi Gray is a phenomenal writer. She would watch the cast work on these scenes and then go away and produce incredible scripted pieces that truly capture the ageism and discrimination that so many people today still face. The last three weeks has really seen it come together.
‘The Drill Hall has proven to be such a great venue. It’s such a lovely theatre, but more importantly they are so supportive of LGBT theatre. They encourage you to take risks and push the boundaries. It’s like joining a supportive community.’
Buratta is clearly proud of The Front Room and its original approach to telling a story about gay rights. ‘I don’t think there’s anything around like what we’re doing at the moment’, he points out. ‘There was no mould or template to look into for a show like this. It genuinely is unique theatre. We’ve tried our best to make it an interesting and entertaining play, and, of course, to present these issues is the most sensitive light possible. We explore things like LGBT institutionalisation and arrests, and everything from from cottaging to women leaving their husbands and children; of course, this is all juxtaposed when we delve in to the passion and fun of it all. There’s singing and dancing too; it’s just like a grand MGM 1940s production’, he jokes.
Following the very short run at The Drill Hall, the show will be touring to Manchester and Birmingham. ‘We’re also undertaking a number of workshops to coincide with the show, hopefully allowing younger performers to engage in the process that we’ve used, but also the stories that we’re telling.’
Buratta is quite adamant that it’s ‘not just another gay show’. Instead, he insists that it is a ‘profound piece of theatre that focuses around stories that need to be told’.
The Front Room is open for three performances at The Drill Hall this weekend: Saturday 16 April at 2.30pm and 7.30pm and Sunday 17 April at 4.00pm. To purchase tickets from The Drill Hall please click here. Tickets are £8.00 (£5.00 concessions)