Emmerson & Ward, Curve and De Montford University
Previous plays by Rob Ward that I have seen in Edinburgh and Manchester have shown the issues facing gay men in British sport: Away From Home in football and Gypsy Queen in boxing. This piece, specifically written for online transmission, takes a wider view of LGBTQ+ people and issues through the Zoom call, something that has become very familiar as a way of keeping in touch during the pandemic and which has now featured in a lot of lockdown dramas.
This play consists of four different unrelated Zoom dialogues, the first of which is split in half to bookend the piece as a whole. This is a Zoom date between two women who did meet in real life before lockdown but didn't get as far as the first kiss. In this conversation, they learn a few things about one another that make them a little uncomfortable: one has been on a Black Lives Matter protest during a pandemic (but she says she did stay at the back and kept her distance) and has "I've never kissed a Tory" on her t-shirt; the other claims to be apolitical, has parents who work on the front line of the NHS... and has voted Conservative.
Following the first part of this is a monologue—although we see the person being addressed as a picture-in-picture—from someone who was obsessed with Harry Potter as a child, even learning Parseltongue, then eventually seeing Hermione rather than Harry as a role model before being devastated by comments reportedly made by J K Rowling about trans women.
What starts off appearing to be another monologue turns out to be a rehearsal for The Lonely Gay being taken over Zoom by a director—photo of Dame Judi on the mantelpiece behind her—who wants him to first be "more camp" then "more northern"—"didn't they teach you northern at drama school". His protests are dampened by the prospect of unemployment.
Finally, a professor is being interviewed for a student magazine about his new book on the art of debate, and we see a change in the balance of power as his initial arrogant superiority is tempered by her informed questions on his comments about trans people, leaving him referring to her line of questioning as a "Marxist leftie agenda".
As these pieces are short, they are focussed on getting their particular point across without being dressed in too much story and with characters that don't get chance to develop far beyond types, but as the issues are the point of the dramas this certainly isn't a bad thing. There is the appearance of a balanced debate, but the balance is often tipped by one side claiming no interest or strong opinions on the issues, resorting to unrelated abuse or just not being present to answer, but again this is a polemical piece with a point of view to express so this is fine, although perhaps if the opponents had put up a stronger case and were still shot down the arguments would have been stronger.
Having said that, while the play isn't saying anything new, it raises issues that are very current and makes its case clearly, and it does so with humour in places, although the comic timing is sometimes slightly slow due to Zoom delays.
In some ways, this sketch format may seem reductive for serious issues, but it is exactly the format used by Brecht—number five on Hitler's death list when he escaped from Germany—in Fear and Misery of the Third Reich to wake people up to what the Nazis were up, so perhaps, even in these polarised times, it can still be effective.
Reviewer: David Chadderton