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A CurtainUp London Review
The Boys in the Band
"Don't insult me by giving me any lecture on acceptable social behaviour. I promise to sit with my legs spread apart and keep my voice in a deep register." - Donald
The Boys in the Band
Mark Gatiss as Harold (Photo: Darren Bell)
48 years is a long time in gay history and Mart Crowley's play was one of the first to put the gay lifestyle under the theatrical microscope. Despite the legal ease with which gay adults could meet and associate in New York in 1968, there is a degree of self loathing which has largely been eradicated or countered by the more recent expressions of gay pride and the intervention in the workplace and schools of organisations like Stonewall. The boys banded together in Crowley's play may have found each other but as a group are still isolated from mainstream America.

Interestingly this play predates the AIDs epidemic, the tragedy of which inspired many more plays about the trials of the gay community. The creative professions have long attracted gay men to them. While we don't get precise occupational pictures of the characters we do learn that in their relationships there are the usual insecurities that differing styles of romance, connection and fidelity induce.

Michael (Ian Hallard) is hosting the party in his loft style apartment with the walls decorated with movie icons such asJudy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Rosalind Russell. Much of the humour is self deprecating.

There are seven guests at Harold's birthday party — "six tired fairy queens and one anxious queer". There are also two outsiders: Michael's straight room mate from university in Georgetown, Alan (John Hopkins) to whom Michael has been closet about his sexuality and Cowboy (Jack Derges). He's a very pretty male stripper hired by the campest of them all, Emory (James Holmes) as a personal present for Harold (Mark Gatiss, a very late entrant, in a beautiful curly wig, dark glasses and a green velvet jacket). Alan makes his entrance as some of the party have choreographed moves to "Higher and Higher".

As alcohol loosens tongues and inhibitions, Michael runs his own version of a vicious party game for his guests to declare on the phone their long held and maybe secret loves. To phone the person "you have always loved". This is potentially very damaging as Larry (Ben Mansfield) and Hank (Nathan Nolan) are a couple and they all are being asked to put their hearts on their sleeves and offering themselves up for rejection. In fact I found the exchange very moving as Larry and Hank's querulous relationship sparks a new and closer understanding.

It is Michael whose game comes back to bite him in the bum as he goes into meltdown. He sums up the theme of the play when he says, "If we could just learn not to hate ourselves so much." If Alan is in denial, his telephone conversation changes nothing.

The performances are well honed and Mark Gatiss has a wonderful stage presence expressing his otherness, his Jewishness as well as his homosexuality. Greg Lockett plays Bernard who finds himself the but of racial jokes in an age which teaches you why political correctness is a necessary developmental stage in the road to equality. Adam Penford's production allows the one liners to zing while revealing the dark underbelly in a play where one character says, "Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse." I liked almost all of the characters in Mart Crowley's play and I found myself caring about them which means the playwright has made a difference. Thank goodness as humanity we have made progress in tolerance in the Western world.

For Elyse Sommer review of the New York production in 2010 go here.

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The Boys in the Band
by Mark Carswell
Directed by Hugh Ross
Starring: Mark Gattis, Ian Hallard
With: Daniel Boys, Jack Derges, James Holmes, John Hopkins, Greg Lockett, Ben Mansfield, Nathan Nolan
Designer: Rebecca Brower
Sound: Jack Nicholson
Lighting Design: Jack Weir
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking at the Park Theatre to 30th October 2016
Touring to The Lowry Salford, Theatre Royal Brighton and Theatre Royal Leeds.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th September 2016 performance at The Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London N4 3JP (Tube: Finsbury Park)
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