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Two Short Plays About Gays
The Hope Theatre
16th September 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Two Short Plays About Gays

Photography provided by The Hope Theatre

After a frankly awful day at work and transport problems which made me horrifically late, I ran to the Hope Theatre to catch Two Short Plays About Gays. I was, unsurprisingly, in a foul mood when I arrived, however I left the theatre feeling very satisfied which speaks volumes about the quality of the production. With plenty of humour, some great singing and incredibly touching moments, this is definitely worth dropping everything and running to see. But don't just take my word for it - the audience gave it a standing ovation.

In the first play, Middle Aged Rent, a middle-aged man (Gregory Ashton) looks back on his days as a rent boy in London in the 1980s. In doing so, he impersonates a wide variety of characters that he met along the way, from the owner of the drag club he frequented, to his lawyer client, and passers-by. At the same time, the youthful Joseph Martin plays the character's younger self, acting out the events and adding his own commentary. The relationship between the two versions of the protagonist is pretty fluid: they finish off each other's sentences and act out scenes together. At one point, Martin plays the role of the injured young protagonist, while Ashton impersonates the club owner who is caring for him. Yet Ashton is still narrating the whole thing in the words of the middle-aged man. I was slightly thrown by this double act at first, but it soon became entirely natural.

Whilst the acting is strong throughout, particular praise must go to Ashton, who has the most to do (not only in terms of acting but in writing - Lesley Ross is his nom de plume). With some great comic timing and wonderful impersonations, he brings the rent boy's world to life and makes it feel very relatable. Although there are some heavy topics thrown into the mix, with the play covering HIV, cancer, bereavement and legal wills, Ashton ensures that these more emotional or serious moments are perfectly interwoven with the comedy. My only criticism is that director Nigel Fairs could have made more of these more poignant elements. Compared to the second play, which was downright tear-inducing, this didn't seem quite as heartfelt.

As for the second show, The Diva Drag, it's a runaway success. Ashton returns, this time playing a London-based Welsh drag queen. Having skipped his mother's funeral, his mother (Louise Jameson) comes back from the grave to find out why. The two of them have an honest, deep, loving, and at times fiery discussion, where each learns something new about the other. We get to enjoy Ashton's wonderful singing in this play, however it's the dialogue that really makes the production something special. Both Ashton and Jameson deliver impassioned performances, covering the full spectrum of emotions. Neither character has had an easy life and you empathise with both of them easily, even when you disagree with their actions. Whilst the topic might feel a little raw if you've had challenges coming out, you're likely to appreciate it all the more in that case. The dialogue also provides an opportunity to show the progress that has been made in society when it comes to accepting all sexual orientations.

Gay, straight, bisexual, undecided, anything in between - no matter who you are, this is simply a fabulously double bill. Beautifully written and performed, you can't help but leave feeling uplifted and with a massive smile on your face.

Two Short Plays About Gays opened on 6th September and runs until 24th September 2016 at the Hope Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)



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