Article Title:Review: Queen
Author or Credit:Lexie Matheson
Published on:16th February 2014 - 09:30 am
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Story ID:14620
Text:Queen Written by Sam Brooks Directed by Harry McNaughton Last show Sunday 6.30PM at TAPAC, buy tickets here Driving to the theatre I found myself wondering why I was going to Queen at all. Two lesbians (one transgendered) and an eleven year old straight boy going, quite excitedly, to experience a play exclusively about the gay male experience. I voiced this thought and was reminded by my considerably more perceptive spouse that it was a Sam Brooks play so it was bound to be well written and our son reminded me that Edwin Beats was in it and he was really sad about being a ‘shit gay’. Our son thought Edwin was the shizz when he performed in the Auckland Pride Festival Gala Le Jeu de Mechant which is great but I don’t even know what ‘shizz’ means and will have to assume, like any trusting parent, that ‘shizz’ is a good thing. Weary though they are from six consecutive nights at the theatre it seems my family are still very keen to go and have the Queen experience. I’d really enjoyed Edwin’s performance too and thought, if worst came to worst, I’d at least have that to hang on to. I needn’t have worried. Queen is, I can now safely say having consulted the Urban Dictionary, also the shizz. In fact it’s double shizz with vodka and bubbles and an olive! The layout in the TAPAC main house has been the same for all the shows during the excellent season of Queer@TAPAC and there’s more to come. Venue’s supporting the festival by hosting season’s like this are absolute gold as has been evidenced by the number of times the ‘House Full’ sign has been dusted off. So, its audience in the centre and three stages situated on the outer perimeter of the room. Interesting, and the layout certainly works for monologues and Queen is made up of them. It’s more than simply monologular (if Shakespeare could make up words then any old queen can) as the actors come together at times and interact. I like TAPAC. The staff are always cheerful and efficient and the foyer is buzzy and informal, a place where you can be as visible – or invisible – as you want to be. The pretty young woman on the door recognises us from previous excursions and turns out to be a talented young actress who we’ve seen in plays before. Nice touch, Anthea, nice to meet you at last? The show opens with Hamish McGregor telling us how boring he is, how ordinary - he isn’t, of course – and bemoaning, in a rather self-effacing and tender way, the fact that he doesn’t have a dramatic and angst-ridden ‘coming out’ story. ‘Make one up, Hamish’, I think to myself, ‘worked for me’ but then I come to my senses and realise that this is exactly what he is doing, he’s acting - using Sam Brooks’ exceptional wordies. Brooks is some writer, talent oozing from every phrase, and his barbs go straight to the heart or to the funny bone and, often enough, at exactly the same time. He’s blessed, too, in having actors to die for who honour his text and live every word. I’m impressed by these men, by their talent, their commitment to the art of acting and to story-telling. Sam Brooks is a genius at weaving actor-friendly narrative and these men are the voices every director, in this case Harry McHaughton, need to make it all come to life. It’s fabulous, have no doubts about that. Sam Christopher is pretty damn fine. His spiel about his love of Beyonce is credible and funny. I enjoy it immensely – so does my son – but we have no idea at that stage just what joys Christopher has yet to smack us around with. Jeremy Rodmell shares with us the tale of his seduction as a young man by his drum teacher. Neither he nor his teacher, as it turns out, were great drummers but the graphic re-enactment of this event by almost every actor on the stage leaves us in no doubt that this was visibly and unmistakably a memorable experience – one way or another. It certainly was for us as we shared his pain, his pleasure and his ultimate satisfaction at the hands of this badboy percussionist. It’s excellent ensemble work lead by Rodmell with Christoper, Beats and Ryan Dulieu, the latter three enthusiastically sharing the drummeister’s Snoopy hat and lustful seducer’s role, seemingly getting a real buzz from working together, a buzz they share abundantly with their ever attentive audience. Worth noting, as I reflect on the quality of the ensemble playing, the maleness of all these characters. It’s palpable and maleness isn’t something I can often say I enjoy that much but in this space and with these fine fellows I could be encouraged to change my mind. In an exclusively vertical arms-length way I hope you understand! There’s no sense of privilege, no negating testosterone competitiveness, just a group of men exploring the heights and depths of who they individually and collectively are. Edwin Beats has a journal and he and Sam Christopher interact with its faux-secrecy to construct a heart-wrenching expose of a friendship that is just that little bit more than that, maybe, perhaps, but not really, but yes it is. It’s beautiful, and these two handsome fellows – thanks again, Sam Brooks – say it all without a sniff of cliché. Christopher goes on to chat with us about his affair, age 18, with the captain of the First XV. It manages to be universal without departing from the personal or sneaking into the maudlin where both madness and platitude lie. While this is a boy narrative, girls experience the same suffering in similar situations and I have little doubt there’s a heterosexual version of it too. Suffice to say, being a teenager can be hellish enough without having your earliest sexual experiences occur in such stone-cold secrecy. Christopher is splendid and the image of his character sitting on a hilltop watching all that rugger-buggery and not feeling in anyway authentic will haunt me for a good while yet. I won’t deny that, for the early sections of the show I wondered what role Ryan Dulieu had to play in proceedings. He seemed engaged but without too much to do. ‘Eye candy’ I thought pompously. ‘Director’s boyfriend’ flitted through my ‘otherwise engaged’ mind. Both may well be true, the former certainly is, but this fine young actor comes into his own - and into the audience - with a rant about what he is and what he isn’t. I call it a rant because at times Dulieu is angry, at times passionate, always on song and we’re never going to die wondering just exactly who and what he isn’t. He’s not a girl. He’s not gay like Beats. Or Christopher. Or McGregor. Or us. God forbid. He is gay, though, we get that. It’s a passionate discourse grounded in ‘I am who I am’ and it’s totally stunning. I find myself worrying what will happen next when he takes a swig from an audience member’s beer and then takes the bottle back with him to the stage. What would I have done if it had been me? What would you do if an actor stole your plonk? On Valentine’s Day? I ever so quickly decide he’s not here for his looks – he has plenty of those – or for being someone’s boyfriend – though that may well be the case – he’s here because he can act up a storm and when was the ever, ever not enough? My son gets his wish. Edwin Beats does his ‘I’m a shit gay’ shtick and it’s even better than it was in the Gala. He’s immensely likable and a master craftsman for one so young. He sidles up to us with his premise and he takes us in, only to delicately take us out of the equation with his last quip. I’d heard it before in rehearsal and in performance. I thought I was impervious to it. I wasn’t. I laughed, and Beats clocked up yet another comic success. As if all that wasn’t enough the men come together at the end in a litany of performance art that connects the dots of the previous hour. It was some journey, thank you Mr Brooks, and we should have been exhausted but instead we left exhilarated by what we’d experienced, thank you men. Reflecting is an interesting thing, always. Mine told me that this work – writing, directing, acting – would have been at home in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court in London. The work is gritty, subtle and as contemporary as tomorrow and every bit as good as that of Joe Penhall, Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane and Caryl Churchill, names to conjure with and names which are inextricably linked to that wonderful Sloane Square playhouse where impeccable theatrical marvels are made. If you don’t believe me, or think I’ve been blinded by eye candy and pecs, then see it for yourself. You’ll be really glad you did. - Lexie Matheson is an arts lover and hardworking member of the Auckland Pride Festival Trust Board.  Lexie Matheson - 16th February 2014    
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