How far have gay people really come since the 50s? Inside Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s ‘The Pride’
Alexi Kaye Campbell’s celebrated play The Pride asks a difficult question: Underneath the rainbow hues, the Gay Pride flags, and the let-it-all-hang-out liberation of today, is the gay community actually any better off than it was in the 50s? Garrett Bithell sits down with Matt Minto, who is set to star in the Sydney premiere.
Two parallel love stories shift between 1958 and the present day. In 1958, Oliver and Philip fall for each other but are forced to be strangers to both desire and themselves. In the rainbow-stickered present, anonymous sex and empty style collide with the human heart.
Herein lies the premise of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Olivier Award-winning The Pride, which explores the seismic changes in attitudes to sexuality that have taken place in Britain over the last 60 years. Premiering in London in 2008, the play was celebrated for its interrogation of gay identity and sexual liberation, from the guilt-ridden, repressed 50s, through to the let-it-all-hang-out, Gay Pride flag-waving present.
As part of the 2016 Mardi Gras Festival, Darlinghurst Theatre is presenting the Sydney premiere of The Pride. Directed by Shane Bosher, the production features Matt Minto, Simon London, Geraldine Hakewill and Kyle Kazmarzik.
“When I first read the play, I was struck by how Alexi Kaye Campbell combines the two time periods,” Minto tells SX. “I think it’s really fascinating – the play asks the question, ‘How far have we really come?’ In the 50s, the characters are pushing up against the society, and the society is telling them their sexuality is wrong. In the present day, it’s more of an internal struggle – there’s been liberation but has there been freedom?”
Above: Matt Minto in The Pride. Top image: Matt Minto with Simon London. Photos: Helen White
Minto plays Oliver. “He’s an interesting character,” he says. “In the 50s, he’s waking up to the possibilities and he’s a seeker, a searcher, a dreamer – and quite courageous, really. And then in the present day, he’s addicted to anonymous sex. He’s in love with Philip but he can’t stop having sex with strangers. He’s battling with carrying a lot of shame, and the 50s period really informs that. In a way, it’s like the characters in each time period are trying to solve each other’s problems.”
As Minto asserts, the playwright explores “what we carry through generations”.
“We are a product of what’s gone on before, so how do we unshackle from the past and make choices now? In the 50s gay men had anonymous sex because they had no other choice. But what is it about now?”
Talking about writing The Pride, Campbell said in an interview:
I never really felt represented by what we’ve come to call ‘the gay scene’ or ‘gay identity’. In a way I felt kind of displaced ... I started exploring the idea that there were ways of behaving that had been learned or acquired, and that weren’t always representative of who you really were.
Above: Matt Minto in The Pride. Photo: Helen White
Minto concurs with Campbell’s sentiments. “It’s also about, what do people really need? There’s a big argument in the gay community about what’s ‘heteronormative’, and what’s being imposed on the community, and what’s a natural expression of sexuality... All these questions get asked in this play, but it never judges. I think that most people, deep down, want to be seen, first of all, and want to be loved and loved in return. How do you go about doing that? And that’s where this play becomes bigger. Yes, it’s a gay story, but it’s a human story.”
The Pride, Darlinghurst Theatre, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst, February 5 – March 6. Bookings at www.darlinghursttheatre.com.au