The statement that homosexuality was far from acceptable in 1950s English society is far from a revelation.
In 1957, the Wolfenden report (named after Lord Wolfenden – the chairman of the committee that created it) recommended that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence. The report also found that homosexuality could not legitimately be regarded as a ‘disease’. But it was a decade before the report’s key recommendations became enshrined in UK law.
Today, it seems fair to say much has changed. But a question at the centre of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride asks whether, despite the so-called liberation of the gay community, it’s any easier today to live an authentic life than it was in times gone by. And to what extent do those deeply engrained prejudices of the past continue to live on today?
The Pride is currently having its premiere Sydney season at Darlinghurst Theatre’s Eternity Playhouse. It tells two gay love stories – one that plays out in London in 1958, and the second in the world of today. While both stories take place almost 10,000 miles northwest, each could just as easily be set against the backdrop of the Australian societies of then and now.
In 1958, property developer Phillip (Simon London) is married to book illustrator Sylvia (Geraldine Hakewill). At the time at which we’re introduced to her, she’s working with an author, Oliver (Matt Minto). At the top of the first act, Phillip and Oliver meet and, immediately, their interaction is noticeably awkward. The overwhelming sense it conveys is that each immediately recognises in the other of a hidden or repressed side.
That discomfort and awkwardness persists, as the pair sits down with Sylvia and becomes acquainted. Phillip begins talking about about his wildest dreams. He tells of harbouring a desire to travel to Africa – as far removed from his life in London as is conceivable. Similarly, in a conversation about his work, Oliver attributes his interest in writing books for children to the fact of it allowing him to properly explore the realms of his imagination. It’s clear why each man craves escapism so dearly. So the question is, now that they’ve met, what will ultimately revealing their true selves to one another bring about?
The setting seamlessly moves back and forth between 1958 and today. At the centre of the modern-day tale are three characters that share their names with their 1950s counterparts. Today’s Oliver and Phillip recently ended their relationship, when Phillip tired of having to deal with Oliver’s ongoing need for anonymous sex. Oliver is deeply upset that things have come to an end, but struggles to commit to a life that won’t allow him to continue satisfying his urges. He admits, at one point, to not wanting to be left alone. He doesn’t trust himself to exercise the restraint needed to refrain from acting on those urges. Through his conversations with friend, Sylvia, the audience obtains a good insight into his internal struggles.
For a sizeable portion of the modern day action, Kyle Kazmarzik joins his colleagues on stage, providing much-needed comic relief in one of two guises. His first appearance is as a rent boy, dressed in a Nazi attire, whose services have been engaged by Oliver, not long after the break-up. Kazmarzik later re-appears as a lads’ magazine editor, who not only considerably lightens the mood, but his dialogue with Oliver effectively draws attention to persisting prejudices and misunderstandings that continue to be common around the issue of homosexuality. Additionally, Kazmarzik makes one appearance in 1958 as a doctor preparing Phillip for a course of aversion therapy.
Regardless of where he appears, Kazmarzik is exceptional on stage in The Pride. He completely convinces as each of his three characters, with flawless accents and never even a mannerism feeling out of place. It may be his first time on the professional stage, but he more than holds his own in this cast.
London is also extremely impressive. He delivers a skilful, nuanced and compelling performance as 1958 Phillip, enormously effective in portraying a man so tortured by his repressed feelings. Perhaps his moment of losing control at the end of Act I could be even a little more frenzied, but it’s a minor criticism of what is an excellent performance. While his modern day character doesn’t afford him the same opportunity to show a considerable emotional range, London is similarly successful in that portrayal.
Minto glides easily from ‘straight-laced on the surface’ author Oliver to his modern day character, who’s much more inclined to engage in risky behaviours, but similarly unable to feel pride in who he is. He’s at times sympathetic, and at others hilarious and even just frustrating.
Hakewill never gets her moment to shine quite like her cast mates, but each of her two Sylvias provides crucial support to London’s and Minto’s characters, and in her portrayal of a 1958 illustrator, she delivers a character that’s enigmatic and intriguing. As the story unfolds, what she shares evokes many questions about how much and for how long she may have known about her husband’s hidden side.
Of course, the fact of The Pride being such a thought-provoking work owes substantially to Campbell’s tight and well-written script. This is a well-constructed narrative that sends its audiences away asking important questions.
Bosher also deserves commendation for his work here. He’s succeeded in ensuring each interaction between characters feels natural, that the actors serve up characters that feel authentic, and that each transition in time and place is seamless.
The Pride is the latest addition to the ever-growing number of impressive works to be staged for Sydney audiences care of Darlinghurst Theatre Co. It’s wonderfully directed and cast, and will likely have patrons questioning how much true pride they feel in who they are.
Playing until March 6
Performance Times: Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm, Wed matinee: 2 March, 11am, Sat Matinees: 27 February & 5 March, 3pm
Ticket Prices: Adult $45/ Conc & Groups $38/ Under 30 (Tue-Thu) $30
A $2 booking fee applies per ticket for online and phone bookings
Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com or 02 8356 9987 (9.30am-5.30pm weekdays)