Queers marks the 50 years since the Sexual Offences act of 1967 began the decriminalisation process for homosexuality between men and celebrates some of the most poignant, funny, tragic and riotous moments of the British gay male experience over the last century.
Part I saw young soldier Percy tells us of his friendship with a handsome blonde captain in his regiment during World War One; cockney girl Ellen Mary Page tells of the freedom and pleasures of assuming a male identity in public; Jackie tells of the fun of illicit affairs before the new Sexual Offences Act that decriminalised homosexuality was introduced and Stephen who is taking full advantage of the liberalisation of the law by marrying his American boyfriend.
Part II sees the characters at a quiet pub; a piano in one corner, drums in the other, a single chair in the centre. Each show us different aspects of being gay during the events of the last six decades, finding surprising enjoyment despite society’s condemnation.
In The Safest Spot in Town, Fredrick tells us how, after arriving from the West Indies, he joined the decadent bohemian world of Soho before World War Two broke out. Filled with tender words and cheeky innuendos, Keith Jarrett’s monologue gives us a taste of the secret underground moment of jazz hangouts, such as the legendary Shim Sham Club, where gay men could have the impression of freedom to dance and enjoy one another company without fear of judgement. Kadiff Kirwan is wonderfully mischievous as Fredrick, cheerfully recounting his escapades yet never allowing us to forget the hardships of the time.
Missing Alice gives us the perspective of a housewife in the 1950s, Alice, who, at first, cannot understand why her newly wed husband will not go to bed with her until she slowly realises that she is his beard. Overtime, Alice and her husband build a strong friendship together and with Michael’s partners who Alice actively encourages him to pursue. Sara Crowe is delicate and calm with a hurricane underneath, which we catch glimpses of but never the full force.
Brian Fillis’s More Anger takes us back to when TV began introducing gay characters and exploring the theme of HIV. Russell Tovey is fantastic as Phil, an actor who is typecast in gay roles, meaning he is killed off in the first twenty minutes. Playing everything from a young boy coming out to lying in a hospital dying of AIDS, we are reminded of the stereotypical gay storylines of media. Tovey makes us laugh out loud and then pulls the carpet out from under us to leave a lump in the throat and shock.
Michael Dennis A Grand Day Out explores another landmark in gay rights; when MPs voted to lower the age of consent to 18 but refused to drop it to 16. Andrew, a brilliant Fionn Whitehead, joins demonstrators outside Parliament and in an act of cheerful rebellion goes home with another demonstrator. Whitehead wonderfully navigates a young man exploring his identity in a tremulous time; from snatching illegal moments at parties to fear of accidentally coming-out to his parents.
TV versions of all eight monologues are being broadcast on BBC4 from 10pm from Monday to Thursday this week, starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Cumming and Rebecca Front as well as the Old Vic cast of Fionn Whitehead, Russell Tovey, Kadiff Kirwan, Ian Gelder and Gemma Whelan. These short films will also be available at BBC.co.uk/iplayer