In New Zealand we’re fortunate enough to have our own gay rugby team. Yes, that’s right, the Falcons are made up of a majority of gay players and travelled to Sydney last year to represent NZ at the Bingham Cup. We also have legalised gay marriage and although there is still little evidence (public that is) of a gay All Black, hopefully we won’t have too long to wait.
However, the story in the UK is quite different. Yes, they play rugby (and NZ does play some football) but the hallowed game over there is riddled with an endemic homophobia that is particular to its landscape, history and people.
Away from home chronicles that particular story and it’s easy to see why it has become such a landmark piece of theatre in the UK. Kyle, the immensely likeable ‘rent boy’, finds that despite his financial success (measured in crisp 20 quid notes) his attempts to keep things ‘professional’ has become compromised. In other words, he has begun to have feelings for one of his VIP clients. To complicate the matter further, this unnamed and unidentifiable celebrity figure plays for Kyle’s rival footy team, causing an immediate state of flux: should he be loyal to his team or to his new found feelings of attraction?
The extended metaphor runs right through the play, and creative team Rob Ward and Martin Jameson pad the narrative with a variety of other interesting, if somewhat predictable, sub-plots. There are Kyle’s parents, who are still grappling with the fact that their son is gay and find it an utter travesty that he would sell his body for services; Kyle’s best friend, McQueen, doesn’t know what Kyle does for a living; and of course his new boyfriend is unwilling to publicise their relationship and instead shows his face at posh clubs with leggy blondes.
It’s a web of lies, deceit and heartbreak, especially because of the history of the sport in the UK (the paranoia around masochism and manly rituals is sodden with drunken behaviour and prescribed heteronomative expectations), and the suicide of Justine Fashinu following the public backlash hangs is the air like an unseen backdrop.
The axle upon which the story grinds is the supremely talented Rob Ward, whose boundless energy enables him to perform this solo show while playing multiple characters, including his parents, footy mates, even a client or two and of course his star-crossed lover. Co-written with director Martin Jameson, the story is firmly one where Brits speak back to Brits with a distinctly British story. It’s almost necessary to transport yourself to the laneways of Brighton or the crowded bars in Manchester, or even to one of the huge sports bars in London, to truly appreciate the rich brogue and Ward’s anecdotal style of delivery punctuated with lashings of Brit humour and expletives.
The story – despite its central message and deliberate non-agit prop stance – seems to come off as only slightly better than average. The production itself is slick and Ward is almost flawless is his seamless character transitions but there are more than a few forced emotional collisions, seemingly unmotivated responses, and the ending is perhaps the biggest disappointment with its rather vague and uncommitted conclusion. This is also slightly confusing, considering the formulaic opening with which the show begins.
The somewhat lukewarm response on opening night (in comparison to the multiple standing ovations the work has received in the UK) reflects the fact that, despite the extraordinary amount of talent displayed by Ward, and the undeniable importance of telling this story, it is simply a tad hollow in the centre.
#fringe #pride #theatre #gay