Queer history up close and personal from individual perspectives

Queers. Curated by Mark Gatiss. Directed by Steph Roberts & Jarrad West. The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, April 5 to 20. Open one hour before performances. 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au.

The Courtyard Studio will be transformed into an English tavern with beer, cocktails and a pinball machine for its next production. Everyman Theatre's first show for 2019 is Queers, curated by Sherlock and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss.

The cast of Everyman Theatre's production of <i>Queers</i>. Photo: Eva Schroeder

The cast of Everyman Theatre's production of Queers. Photo: Eva Schroeder

Everyman co-founder Jarrad West has teamed up with Steph Roberts to direct this series of monologues. They were commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21 in England and Wales. Queers was shown on the BBC as well as staged.

It's intended as an immersive piece of storytelling and singing with the audience encouraged to interact with the setting - having a drink, playing pinball - before some tavern regulars share their "queer" experiences of British life over the last century.

West says although most of the characters are gay he believes the appeal of the monologues is universal.

"They're stories about life and love," he says.

"Everyone has a story."

Through these individual stories, major events of nearly 100 years of history related to the gay and lesbian communities are covered. These include the 1957 Wolfenden Report that led, a decade later, to law reform, the HIV/AIDS crisis and the legalising of gay marriage.

And along with the events come the issues and the feelings.

The monologues include The Man on the Platform (by Gatiss) where a returning World War I soldier tells of a comrade with whom he fell in love and Jon Bradfield's Missing Alice, in which a wife in the 1950s talks about what it's like being married to a closeted gay man.

Pip Carroll, 20, could relate to some of the experiences of his 17-year-old character Andrew when rehearsing his monologue.

A Grand Day Out is set in 1994, when the British government was voting on lowering the age of homosexual male consent. There's a protest in London agitating for it to be brought down to 16 - and Andrew sneaks away from his small-town home to attend. But what if his parents see him on TV?

"It's legal to be a gay man, there's a relative amount of acceptance, but everything is still so much of a challenge - to be accepted as a gay man, to be part of society," Carroll says.

While there are fewer consequences in terms of the law or violence, "nothing's really OK yet".

Carroll says the rough-around-the-edges Andrew is "a little bit thick" and doesn't understand a lot of gay culture.

In his small town there's no space for being gay and he's looking for the opportunity to be himself and discover more about life.

Carroll says when he came out "I was very, very fortunate" in terms of when and where he was living.

"I was very accepted by family, peers, friends."

But, he says, "It doesn't matter if people accept it - you feel different".

One of the straight actors in the cast of Queers is Colin Giles, who performs Something Borrowed by Gareth McLean.

West says Giles "only just recently got married ... but he was excited when I sent him the script.

"It's nice to have these straight men so excited to live in other people's shoes."

Giles says his character, Stephen, is the most modern of those depicted. Stephen is about to marry his partner Adam after same-sex marriage was legalised in Britain in 2014.

Pip Carroll, left and Colin Giles are in <i>Queers</i>.  Photo: Eva Schroeder.

Pip Carroll, left and Colin Giles are in Queers. Photo: Eva Schroeder.

"I think the great thing about him is he's very loving," Giles says.

"He's working on his speech at the reception and he goes through quite a few emotions."

As well as reflecting on his relationship with his mother, who "didn't bat an eyelid" when he came out, and on his feelings about Adam, Stephen talks about his attitude towards some members of his family, who were not accepting of the fact he was gay.

"Part of him wants to use the speech as a little bit of revenge. It comes from a place where he's quite happy to be getting married and wants to show that off."

Giles says when West first approached him he wasn't sure he should take the part.

"The last thing I wanted to do is take a role away from a gay actor but Jarrad talked me into it."