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Journeys – Martin Harris Centre, Manchester

Writers: Stephen M Hornby, Jamie K Jones, Thomas Kenwright, Damien McHugh, Howard Totty, Rosie Hutchinson

Directors: Stephen M Hornby, Rosie Hutchinson

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs


Journeys - VADAJourneys, by Manchester’s VADA LGBTQ Community Theatre Company, is presented as part of the Manchester Pride Fringe – a diverse and growing element of Manchester Pride that offers an alternative – an antidote? – to the three days of partying of the Big Weekend. VADA is a unique theatre group in the UK, dedicated to new writing and with a thematic focus on telling stories from the different and sometimes disparate elements of the gay community – the physical and emotional journeys of LGBTQ lives.

Journeys is presented as a series of short dramas, sketches and scenes, loosely compèred by a series of short (mostly) light-hearted monologues by Hugh Polehampton, exploring themes of gender expression and chosen and not-chosen identities. Variedly costumed, these musings are wittily enlived by the appropriation of the lyrics of gay classics as dialogue, nicely underlining the strange importance of pop music in defining aspects of gay lives.

The first drama is probably the most interesting. Loving Her is a series of scenes from 1979-1987 set in hotel rooms at Conservative Party Conferences, exploring the love affair between two men from different social and geographical backgrounds who snatch a relationship from these scant opportunities to be together. The piece explores the changing social attitudes of the 1980s and links the experiences of gay men in a time of social change with Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister – her shift from the optimism of new leadership (for Tories anyway) to the betrayal (for the gay community) of Section 28. Throw in the dark age of AIDS and this creates an idea full of complex ideas and potential. Tom Kenwright is especially effective at communicating the progression of his character from the fearful closet to the fearfully defiant out.

The piece that follows, ‘idate’, marks the striking contrast between modern families now and the difficult 1980s. This frank, vogueish comedy highlights the extent to which families are now pretty much what we chose to make them. Next is Engage, a silent comedy about a couple deciding what to pack for a holiday. When you’re taking an engagement ring in your holiday luggage how many condoms, pairs or sunglasses and what kind of undies do you take? Engage is a piece of fluff but gives Tom Kenwright another opportunity to explore his potential and acting range.

Confessions is a slightly inappropriately fun scene between a rather camp Catholic priest and the rather troubled football-kitted young man who comes with something to confess. Damien McHugh as Father Sebastian and Tom Kenwright (looking rather fetching in footie kit as Daniel) are both good, but there is something awkward about making light of gay priests and their activities. The comedy treatment gives Confessions a rather old-fashioned air. Think Father Ted played by Dick Emery. Far from unfunny though.

Life with the Cassoulettes was an oddly old-fashioned slice of rather maudlin comedy. Reminiscent of Entertaining Mr Sloane but without Orton’s brilliance or the catalytic lazy malevolence of Mr Sloane, just a rather sweet Tom Kenwright as the rescued rent boy causing tension between ageing siblings Lionel and Sybil (Howard Totty and Angela Smith).

Finally, Play Centre explored that moment when two women settle down and get married with the hope of starting a family and then have to work out where the sperm is coming from. Broadly funny, Rosie Hutchinson is on good form as wannabe mother Kelly, nicely playing off her need for motherhood with the logistical absurdities of how to do it without ‘doing it’.

Nice use of projected stills gave all the scenes a hook to hang a sense of place on and soundscapes by Jamie Griffiths gave the show cohesion and pulled in lots of sound references to enhance the times and places explored. The writing and acting in Journeys is kind of uneven but it manages to entertain and amuse, and does achieve the professed aim of exploring the social and political lives of gay people in the recent past and present. Loving Her, especially, has the potential to be developed further.

Reviewed on 22nd August

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