Dumbledore Is So Gay

Robert Holtom
Hannah Elsy Productions with Jon Kingsley
Southwark Playhouse Borough (The Small)

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Charlotte Dowding as Gemma, Alex Britt as Jack and Martin Sarreal as Ollie Credit: David Jenson
Charlotte Dowding as Gemma, Alex Britt as Jack and Martin Sarreal as Ollie Credit: David Jenson
Martin Sarreal as Ollie and Alex Britt as Jack Credit: David Jenson

It isn’t always easy to grow up gay and especially wasn’t in the ago of AIDS and when Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 made teachers afraid to mention (let alone discuss) it at school. That is when dramatist Robert Holtom and protagonist Jack were teenagers, and that is what the play is about. It feels painfully honest and drawn from personal experience, but it is also very positive, hopeful and funny.

Tom Wright’s production, first seen at the 2020 Vault Festival, here gets its third London outing, which is reflected in the excellent interaction of this three-actor cast of Alex Britt as Jack and Charlotte Dowding and Martin Sarreal as his best friends Gemma and Ollie, for whom Jack carries a torch.

Jack and his friends are all Harry Potter fans and Dumbledore (as if you didn’t know) is the headmaster of Hogwarts, the magic academy where Harry was a pupil. In 2007, J K Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay, and that gave Jack some validation, but, at a time when, though consensual male on male sex was no longer illegal (provided there were only two of you, of the right age and in the right place where no one could see you), where would you find out about anything?

Jack uses a spell from the Harry Potter stories to go back and challenge the bigotry of those years with the voice that he didn’t have then, but you don’t need to know any Potter lore to enjoy this invigorating presentation as Jack explores sexual orientation and enters a gay world of clubs, discos, sexual encounters and unrequited love. Alex Britt sheds his years to become a younger Jack, innocent (he has little chance to be otherwise) but on the ball and sustains a vibrant performance through a non-stop, 75-minute single act.

Martin Sarreal makes you believe in an Ollie who isn’t sure which way he swings, though you can quite see why he becomes the love of Jack’s life, and Charlotte Dowding’s warm-hearted Gemma handles her own rejection smiling. Sarreal and Dowding also play the others that Jack meets and his understanding mother.

The writing is natural and lively, describing one guy as having “a six-pack you could grate cheese on” and, when his mother is commiserating with Jack who is going through a break-up, telling him, “men are a luxury, not a necessity!”

Designer Natalie Johnson’s setting is simple: just a box-bench, floor and walls dark blue covered with gold stars and magic symbols. It is lit (by Rory Beaton) to show off the actors and is supported throughout by Peter Wilson’s sound and music score.

You don’t have to be a Potter fan (or gay) to enjoy this. It sends you home feeling good.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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