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A CurtainUp London London Review
Teddy Ferrara

"The climate for queer students at this university is swamped." — Ellen
Teddy Ferrara
Oliver Johnstone as Drew and Luke Newberry as Gabe (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Teddy Ferrara is based on a true story of a gay American undergrad who committed suicide after being filmed having sex by his absent roommate which was posted on the internet for others to see. Christopher Shinn's play looks at the LGBTQ community in the American university in terms as to what has been achieved in the name of equality, Aspiring politicians adopt campaigning for gay and trans rights to win votes. The play opens with an event to promote a gay club student dance night complete with rainbow coloured cupcakes.

Gabe (Luke Newberry) is president of the LGBTQ society but hardly anyone has turned out and instead Gabe is talking to Drew (Oliver Johnstone), editor of the university newspaper and Gabe's new sexual partner. Drew is precariously insecure and alternates between being demanding and controlling, and angry. Gabe is more likeable. When Gabe hesitates at Drew's pressing sexual needs, Drew labels him as afraid of intimacy.

Enter Teddy Ferrara (brilliantly played by Ryan McParland) who is looking to meet "hot" guys but Teddy worries about his mouth kanker sores. Teddy is rather odd and quirky, and reminded me physically of Dustin Hoffman's nervous sexual initiate in The Graduate. Drew's reaction to Teddy is to say "What a weirdo!" Drew leaves and Teddy comes back later when Gabe is friendly to him and they discuss "hot" guys and the dance party.

Teddy shares a room with another student but has asked his roommate if he can be alone for a few hours so he can be with a man he has met online. Teddy later finds a web cam set up to record and trained on his bed. What we later learn about Teddy is that he has an online following of internet voyeurs who watch his masturbatory blog. Teddy jumps from the Ninth Floor of the library and the Ninth Floor bathroom is known as the cruising area for gays wanting sex with strangers.

The College President (the magnificently loquacious Matthew Marsh), an academic but maybe a prospective candidate for the Senate, has invited three minority sexual orientation students to lunch. They are Gabe from the LGBTQ, Jaq a trans student (Griffyn Gilligan) and Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano) who is in a wheelchair and is gay. Also at this pizza lunch are Nancy Crane as the Provost and Ellen (Pamela Nomvete) who promotes diversity equality and inclusivity. The President is a joy to watch schmoozing over lunch.

Drew's newspaper is featuring the suicide of a different student a year ago to raise awareness of gay homophobia and the pressures on LGBTQ students as they grapple with their identity. The irony is that no-one is sure that this student was gay. If he was he was very closeted.

What Christopher Shinn's play illustrates is that the gay community is focusing on issues like gay marriage, and not where some feel the campaign should lie, on the acceptance of otherness in society as a whole and to protect the vulnerable from crimes of hatred and exclusion. Figures from Stonewall show that 55% of lesbian gay and bisexual pupils experience bullying in schools in the UK. The President and the Provost discuss the need for gender neutral bathrooms which have been requested in the same numbers and locations as those for males and females.

Teddy's suicide is exploited by all to front their campaign and in some cases their political ambition. The other side of the coin is that in the UK suicide is the highest cause of death of men under 35, many of course are heterosexual. Gabe stresses that we don'[t know why Teddy Ferrara committed suicide.

Dominic Cooke directs as he did with the Shinn play I loved at the Royal Court Now or Later. The performances are excellent throughout. What feels a tad alien is the American university culture. However Hildegarde Bechtler's set looks perfectly in keeping with campus modernity.

While Teddy Ferrara has much room for discussion, I feel it is not suitable for the under 16s due to the extent of sexual activity, discussion and some may find the kissing of men other than one's boyfriend verging on undiscriminating sexual behavior.

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Teddy Ferrara
Written by Christopher Shinn
Directed by Dominic Cooke

Starring : Matthew Marsh, Nancy Crane, Griffyn Gilligan, Christopher Imbrosciano, Oliver Johnstone, Ryan McParland, Luke Newberry, Pamela Nomvete and Nathan Wiley
With: Anjli Mohindra, Kadiff Kirwan, Nick Harris, Abubakar Salim
Designed by Hildegarde Bechtler
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: Carolyn Dowling
Movement: Liz Ranken
Running time: Two hours 25 minutes with an interval
Box Office 0844 871 7624
Booking to 5th December 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th October 2015 performance at the Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, London WC2H 4LD (Tube: Covent Garden)
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