Queers. A series of individual monologues curated by Mark Gatiss. Co directed by Steph Roberts and Jarrad West. Everyman Theatre. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until April 20. Bookings canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.
As you enter the Courtyard Studio the transformation is remarkable. Set designers Jarrad West and Chris Zuber have turned the theatre into The Prince's Arms, an intimate, atmospheric British pub with a distinctly cabaret flavour. Drapes hang from the walls on either side of a pinball machine. Carpet and rugs cover the floor. Audiences sit at tables in the glow of flickering candles. Drinks and snacks are served from the bar at one end and the scene is set for Everyman Theatre's production of Queers. The Beards, singer Louiza Blomfield and pianist Alex Unikowski, are performing the Judy Garland classic I'm Always Chasing Rainbows and the seduction is instantaneous.
What follows is a collection of seven monologues, each by a different writer and spoken by characters from different eras of the 20th and 21st centuries. From the love that dare not speak its name to the terrifying AIDS epidemic and finally the legalisation of gay weddings, Queers presents the lives of the First World War soldier (Alexander Hoskison), the lesbian of the 1920s (Jess O'Neill Waterhouse in a Burlington Bertie top hat and tails) and the woman married to a homosexual (Karina Hudson).
Chris Baldock excels as the lascivious homosexual tailoring shop owner, camp as a row of tents, and terrified of the thinning hair and advancing years. "I am what I am," he proclaims to the crowd.
Fear and anger swell in Cole Hilder's monologue of an actor who discovers that his lover has AIDS. Pippin Carroll is the naïve young teenager, protesting in front of Parliament against the law that sets the age of consent at 18, and not 16. In a monologue that is as funny as it is forceful, the young teenager calls out in protest, "We count. We exist. We are real people."
"I didn't exist," says gay groom Adam (Colin Giles). "I am sick of being invisible in other people's stories"
Each monologue under the sensitive direction of Steph Roberts and Jarrad West resonates at the hands of an excellent cast. The poignancy is powerful in the intimacy of The Prince's Arms. Funny and sad, fearful and defiant, outrageous and gentle, different and the same, each character reaches out for understanding and kindness.
Everyman Theatre's production is far more than a parade of Queers. Nor is it a flamboyant display of gay pride. It is an honest, deeply sensitive and profoundly moving illustration of what it is to be different and yet another side of the same humanity that inhabits us all. In the pub, the heart of community, Blomfield's magnificent rendition of songs of the eras accompanied by Unikowski's masterful playing on piano introduces each monologue at the end of a five-minute break. The evening is long and some monologues could do with judicious editing but the pub cabaret setting and the compelling performances of every member of the cast make for an absorbing and entertaining night at the theatre..
Queers is so much more than its title might suggest. I urge everyone to share in its experience, its cry for compassion and its soul-searching and thought-provoking insight.