CARNATION FOR A SONG can now be heard online

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to see one of the most impactful shows I have ever seen in my life.

CARNATION FOR A SONG was a show put together as a response to another show, by members of the Young Vic’s local LGBTQ+ community. You can read my appreciation of the show from April 2019 here

The show was recorded and you can now listen to the sound recording for free on SoundCloud, by clicking here

On this page you can find the original Soundtrack recording of the show at the bottom of the list here, lasting just over 57 minutes.

It brings something of the flavour and deeply personal qualities of the show for you to experience. I was so glad that I was able to see it. I hope that you will enjoy listening to it, and that it resonates with you, wherever you are – and whoever you are.


Watch Now: Finborough stages controversial LGBT drama for online audiences

Here’s an interesting and controversial first-time revival which comes appropriately during LGBTQ Pride month, available free online, as a benefit for an LGBTQ charity.

The Finborough brings us the first opportunity in over thirty years to see a staged reading of the play LEATHER by Peter-Scott Presland. It will be livestreamed, and then available on demand.

“I loathe violence. I don’t understand how people can inflict it on each other voluntarily.”
“Nobody knows what they’re truly capable of. Isn’t it better to use it in play-acting than keep it under some hatch which is bound to blow anyway one day?”

Phil befriends Gordon, a rape survivor, and they become lovers.

But Gordon finds himself drawn to Phil’s best friend, Terry, who is into heavy sadomasochism…

Following its hugely controversial run at the Finborough Theatre in 1990, Homo Promos presents this Zoom staged reading of Peter-Scott Presland’s LEATHER.

The reading was live streamed on Tuesday, 15 June at 7.00pm, and will then be available from Tuesday, 22 June to Tuesday, 20 July 2021 on the Finborough Theatre’s YouTube channel, and concurrently with subtitles on Scenesaver.

Please note that the play is suitable for adults only.

A brave and groundbreaking play about gay domestic abuse, redolent of pain and violence in all its forms, consensual and non-consensual, as physical abuse is paralleled by mental control, and the erosion of any sense of worth.

Two members of the original cast, Matthew Hodson and Keith Bursnall, will be appearing in the Zoom reading, with the author, Peter Scott-Presland, present. The Zoom reading will be followed by a chance to discuss the issues involved with the cast and author.

The most controversial play Homo Promos ever produced, and the one which people keep asking to see again. It played to packed houses at the Finborough Theatre, despite an attempt by Whitbread, the brewery that owned the Finborough Arms building at the time, to close it. Section 28, preventing the ‘promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ was also waved at the company.

Male rape was first highlighted by newspaper Capital Gay in two 4-page centre spreads after Heaven nightclub used a rape scene as its Halloween ‘entertainment’ in 1981. Author of LEATHER, Peter-Scott Presland was one of the journalists who worked on that exposé, and the experience fed into the writing of the play which was completed in 1987, although it took three years to get a company together to stage it. When it was performed it was the first play to deal with the subject within the gay community. Many objected violently to any suggestion that it was a common occurrence. Nowadays male rape and domestic abuse is acknowledged as a major stain on LGBTQ+ life: the latest statistics suggest 18% of gay men have suffered it at some time.

There are now several charities which work to support male survivors of abuse and violence. This Zoom reading is a benefit for Stay Brave, a volunteer-led charity providing support and advice to survivors.

To donate, please go Stay Brave website here

Watch LEATHER here


Colchester Mercury Theatre’s PIECES OF STRING

PLEASE NOTE: ONLY AVAILABLE UNTIL MIDNIGHT on Friday 8th May BST

To celebrate VE Day 2020, Colchester Mercury proudly present their hit 2018 production, PIECES OF STRING, online. This new British musical, which premiered on the Mercury stage, explores three generations of one family, alternating between the 1940s and the present day, telling the story of a World War II soldier who returned with a secret that he would carry until the day he died.

With hauntingly beautiful music and a heart-rending human story, PIECES OF STRING is a tender, funny, emotionally-charged exploration of how three generations of one family learn to deal with a story that nobody’s been brave enough to tell until today.

Times may have changed but some battles still need to be fought.

Written and composed by Gus Gowland, PIECES OF STRING was developed by Perfect Pitch and co-produced by the Mercury Theatre Colchester and TBO Productions. The musical was a hit with audiences in Colchester and went on to win the Stage Debut Award 2018 for Best Composer or Lyricist and was nominated for Best Musical Theatre Bookwriting – Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and Best Musical Production – UK Theatre Awards.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the Mercury Theatre to help it to reopen its doors after this crisis has passed.

Age guidance 14+. Contains adult themes. The show runs approximately two hours.

To watch a trailer for the show, click here

To watch a short interview with the writer/composer, Gus Gowland, click here

VIEWING PERIOD CLOSED

You can find PIECES OF STRING available to rent or as part of a subscription at the Digital Theatre website


Review: THE VIEW UPSTAIRS

IN BRIEF – Socially significant, superbly cast, sung and written time-slip musical reminds us of the importance of community.

Meet Wes, a man of our times – a neurotic, tech-addicted, self-obsessed Millennial fashion designer who luxuriates in a huge following on social media (“I don’t need community”, he brags). Wes buys an abandoned old building in New Orleans for his new flagship store. The building, however, is still occupied – by the spirits of those who frequented the gay bar The Upstairs Lounge before it was torched in a hate crime in 1973.

Wes is transported back to that time to meet a disparate group of characters who found refuge at the Lounge, all in situations familiar to LGBT people in 1973 – a closeted married composer who missed fame by being too visibly gay, the Puerto Rican drag queen and his devoted Mother, the ballsy lesbian owner, homeless men forced into hustling… and several others.  Each has a story, told through song.

This is a far from idealised community; friction, jealousy and tension pepper the script, from the crooked cop busting the joint, to internal group fighting, the atmosphere is heady and volatile.

Forced to be tech-free, away from distractions, Wes focuses on the first-hand experience and lives “in the moment” for a brief time. As his bewilderment slowly subsides, he finds himself drawn to Patrick, a young man of about his own young age, whose story like most of the others is of family rejection, destitution and struggle, who had none of Wes’s good fortune, and yet he echoes Wes’s own feelings of being empty, alone and fearful. They fall for each other, but the story already has its inevitable -tragic- ending.

The culture clash of a “have it all” millennial finding a kind of alter-ego in a bruised, struggling hustler from an earlier time is effective and engaging. Wes is searching for many things but Patrick nails it when he points out that what Wes has is “not community but commerce”.

Based on true events, Max Vernon’s impressive one-man show of book, music and lyrics amply illustrate that he is adept at all three, but Vernon’s biggest strength is undoubtedly in the music. The time-slip idea works for the music in that Wes’s numbers have a contemporary feel but the other characters’ numbers are expertly anchored in the seventies. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the music and arrangements have referenced distinct 70s sounds, styles and themes, weaving through the score and giving it a pleasing authenticity. It’s tough to pick out favourites but the opener Some Kind of Paradise, Are You Listening God? and the penultimate Theme Song work for me; the score is of a consistently high standard, elevated still further by superb vocals.

The entire company are well-cast, giving excellent performances with voices to match. The small but tight band bring the very best out of the music (although at times the sound balance drowned out the lyrics, disappointingly) and the baby grand piano onstage gives value, although hogging centre stage it rather limits the choreography. The static set is appropriately run-down, though enjoyably detailed. Lighting does some good work here too. Direction by Jonathan Boyle is strong and compassionate.

Tyrone Huntley is perfectly cast as Wes, his “front” turning to something more vulnerable as the show progresses, with an eloquent, soulful voice (heard earlier in the year in the superb Leave To Remain) which manages to fit both “then” and “now” into its range. Andy Mientus is appealing and moving as the young Patrick, forced to sell himself on the streets after running away from his conversion-therapy minded family. He subtly conveys the hopelessness of his situation but also the spark of promise that could have been his life. He sings superbly too, his songs full of passion and sincerity in simple uncluttered arrangements which allow his lyrical vocals to shine. Cedric Neal is imbued with sass, class and a gift of a voice; Carly Mercedes Dyer soars vocally and rocks a great Afro hairstyle; and John Partridge is convincingly and uncomfortably self-loathing as Buddy with a singing voice reflecting his experience. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt makes the most of her moments, her quiet, reflective song about the love for her son particularly affecting.

This is a heartfelt and powerfully sung reminder of how far the LGBTQIA community have come. But for those (like Wes) too young to remember 1973, it’s also a wake-up call to know and value your history- and to remember those who fought -and died- for the rights that some LGBTQIA people now enjoy. In these volatile times, Vernon’s show is the perfect jolt that’s needed to be aware of the past and alert to the present.

THE VIEW UPSTAIRS plays at the Soho Theatre until 24 August. Information and tickets here.


Time Travel Theatre – The night I met Quentin Crisp

Quentin Crisp 1940s, Photo by Angus McBean and held at the National Portrait Gallery

In remembrance of a singular figure now, sadly, fading from memory, and in celebration of LGBTQI+ Pride, I thought that you might like to hear about an evening out I had almost forty years ago.

It was a chilly Friday evening in 1981 that a friend and I approached the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, full of anticipation and curiosity. An Evening with Quentin Crisp, the displays announced tastefully. We swept through the outer doors – into a thoroughly empty foyer. Let us remember that this was the end of a long and successful run, and an early house at that (Fridays, 6 and 8.30).

Quentin Crisp had shot to fame after John Hurt portrayed him to great acclaim on TV in a dramatised biography, The Naked Civil Servant, in 1975 and now, in his latter years he was an unexpected international celebrity, holding forth about everything under the sun in his stage show which ran, almost unchanged, for many years, across the UK and America. And now, he was back here finishing off a run in London- quietly, it seemed.

A rather subdued atmosphere hung over the theatre as we shuffled in to the early house. Seven of us in the stalls, a similar number in the dress circle. The auditorium was as cold and silent as at a wake.

The house lights dimmed and Crisp made his entrance to a hearty round of applause from the tiny throng. “Good evening”, he said. “Now before we get started, I’d like to do a little housekeeping. There’s a first time for everything…..Would you“, he said in his leisurely voice, swivelling a somewhat gnarled – but beautifully manicured – finger to the handful of people in the dress circle “…like to come down here and join us?” It was more of a requirement than an invitation, and those upstairs eagerly came and joined the handful of us in the front stalls. Crisp directed the new arrivals to their new seats, and made us into a single cosy group, and then the show began. Crisp snapped into his delivery like a seasoned pro, effortlessly slipping into the well-worn groove of his material.

He began: “I’ve been forbidden to describe this evening as a straight talk from a bent speaker. So instead, let’s say it’s like a consultation with a psychiatrist who is madder than you are.”

He proceeded to run the gamut, with advice, amusing anecdotes and shameless plugs for his book, which he would be signing in the foyer at the end of the show. After an interval, he answered written questions from the audience with his trademark dry wit and fun. And that oft-impersonated voice! A hint of a nasal drawl, like gravel mixed with glitter, was special to hear “live”. With one of the smallest audiences I have ever been with, I can say it was one of the most memorable nights in the theatre that I have ever had.

At the show’s conclusion, after a small hiatus, the man himself appeared in the foyer, with an Annapurna of paperbacks by his side, surreally out of proportion to the size of the attending group. For a moment I didn’t know if we were supposed to buy them or climb them.

I counted the group. Every single person had stayed.

He signed my book. His new Fontana paperback, entitled ‘How to Become A Virgin’. He signed everyone’s book. He was most polite, respectful and very grateful, and took time to inscribe the books clearly for each of us. And then he was gone, ushered back through the auditorium by the front of house team, who as I remember, looked unsettlingly like the gang in the 1955 Ealing film The Ladykillers.

1981. Or was it 1955? So hard to recall….

We went out into the night, warmed by the experience of having spent a couple of hours in the company of a person who had spent a lifetime standing up for who he was – although it attracted the wrong kind of attention – and won. A little part of us had changed forever; we would never forget the night that we met Quentin Crisp.


Quentin Crisp died in 1999, aged 90, having humorously decided to live for a century “with a decade off for good behaviour”. He left behind a string of books, stage appearances and media interviews. Never conveniently categorised in life or death, he remains an interesting figure for his often controversial views and his ability to turn a good one-liner, as well as his bravery in standing out and being himself. In his final writings, he came to the realisation that he was more a trans woman than a gay man, which revealed one final fascinating facet of the person we knew as Quentin Crisp.


Of the stage show, there was a sound recording made in New York in February 1979 which became a best-selling double LP (cover above) released by DRG, and the video recording below was made a little later, I think 1983/4.

I am delighted to say that I have tracked down this show on YouTube (below), so that you can take a trip back in time. Enjoy a slice of LGBTQ history! And Happy Pride!

With thanks to YouTube poster Sam Tichinoff

Anyone wanting to delve further into Mr Crisp’s doings may enjoy a visit to CRISPERANTO – All Things Quentin Crisp – here