Everyman Theatre is set to revive its critically acclaimed production ‘Queers’ at the Old Causeway Hall in February. This immersive and innovative show, curated by Mark Gatiss and directed by Jarrad West and Steph Roberts, invites audiences to delve into a century of evolving social attitudes and political milestones in British Queer history.
‘Queers’ comprises seven short monologues, originally developed for British television in 2017 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. This groundbreaking legislation legalized homosexual acts in private between men aged over 21. Renowned writer Mark Gatiss (‘Sherlock,’ ‘Doctor Who’) contributed one of the monologues and commissioned other contemporary writers to create a poignant yet compelling narrative that spans from 1917 through to the legalization of gay marriage.
The monologues are a rollercoaster of emotions, ranging from funny and riotous to tragic and heart-rending. They explore pivotal moments in Britain's queer history including the Wolfenden Report of 1957, the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and the debate over the gay age of consent. ‘Queers’ skilfully condenses one hundred years of gay history into a series of powerful and personal stories.
This production promises to be a memorable and immersive theatre-going experience. The Old Causeway Hall will be transformed into an old British ale house, The Princes Arms, a staging innovation that resonated strongly with previous audiences.
In anticipation of the 2024 production of ‘Queers’, David Blanco spoke with Jarrad West, one of the show’s directors. A luminary of Canberra's theatre scene and co-director of Everyman Theatre, Jarrad has left an indelible mark with his performances and critically acclaimed direction of local productions, including ‘Angels in America’ and ‘The Laramie Project.’ Joining the ACT Hub in 2021, he also manages the Old Causeway Hall. Jarrad discusses what Canberra audiences can expect when they come to see ‘Queers,’ the creative process behind its staging, and the importance of the stories told in the show’s monologues.
David Blanco : FUSE Magazine
How did you first become aware of the ‘Queers’ and what made you and Steph decide to stage the show in Canberra?
Jarrad West : Director
2018 was the last time I travelled to the UK (I wanted to go in 2020 and 2022...but the pandemic prevented that!). Whenever I visit the UK, I always do a pilgrimage to the National Theatre bookshop and just hunt around. It was there that I found the script book for ‘The Inheritance,’ which is coming to the Hub in October this year, and ‘Queers.’
I cracked the book open properly on a coast trip at the beginning of 2019 when we were trying to look for a replacement show for one that we'd had to cancel unexpectedly. My Co-director Steph Roberts struck upon the idea of staging ‘Queers’ as an immersive and interactive theatre experience and it just snowballed from there!
What do you like about the monologue format of dramatic theatre?
I like the vulnerability of it. For an actor there is no greater challenge. You must hold everyone's attention. You and you alone are the sole storyteller. There's nowhere to hide and you've got no one else to blame if something goes wrong!
Do you have a favourite monologue in ‘Queers’? If so, which one and why?
That's like the favourite child question, but I do love the way ‘Queers’ is structured, with the first piece, ‘The Man on the Platform’ being set during World War One. At that point in history, progress hadn't been made in recognising the rights of gay people and didn't look like the situation would ever change. The final monologue, ‘Something Borrowed,’ is set in 2016, the year same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK and works as a counterpoint to show how much progress has been made from 1917 to current times.
This isn't the first time you have staged ‘Queers’ in Canberra, what drew you and Steph to directing it once more? Is this year's show different to previous productions
Back in 2019 after ‘Queers’ had wrapped up, Steph and I realised it had gone by in a flash and had been a sort of 'lightning in a bottle' moment, where it had been such a 'make it up as we went along' project that ultimately came together extremely well. We agreed that one day we'd stage it again if we could. Before we knew it, we were designing the Hub’s 2024 season and it seemed like the right time to restage ‘Queers’, this time with different actors for a fresh take on the material.
The ‘Queers’ monologues are written from a British perspective. What makes them relevant to Australian audiences?
Admittedly, Australia was well behind our English (and European, and American and almost all other) cousins when it came to marriage equality and progress for LGBTQIA+ rights. However, there are parallels with many of the themes and incidents mentioned throughout ‘Queers.’
The decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania in 1997 occurred only 3 years after the debate in the UK parliament on equalising the age of consent between homosexual and heterosexual sexual activity. Tasmania was about 30 years late to the party, as the UK had decriminalised gay sex in 1967 but the protests and fight for change are universal and shared in our history.
Please tell our readers about the cast of ‘Queers’ and what they bring to their roles? Has the cast changed since 2019's production?
Last time we had a wonderful bunch of actors to bring the monologues to life, and this time they're (nearly) all completely new! Alex Hoskison is the only actor to appear in both productions. He performs the first monologue, ‘The Man on the Platform’ written by Mark Gatiss. He was such a beautiful start to the piece we had to use him again.
In the current cast we have Natasha Vickery, Karen Vickery, Geoffrey Borny, Joel Horwood, Patrick Galen-Mules & Joe Dinn who are all newcomers to the show. Louiza Blomfield will return as the singer who ties the pieces together, moving us through the decades. We’re also thrilled to have Callum Tolhurst-Close accompanying her on the piano.
If you could update ‘Queers’ to present day and add a monologue, what would it be about?
Ooh, a no holds barred polemic on my lack of a love life? Okay fine, not that. But probably something about how we connect. As gay men (speaking from my own experience) we seem to be more visible than ever - yet for some of us we've never felt more separate? Do the dating apps help? Have we let the muscles that handle social interaction atrophy and now it's just all too hard? Particularly after the pandemic we’re drifting and pretending not to be alone? These are questions I'd explore if I were a writer and in charge!
What’s next for Jarrad West?
After ‘Queers,’ I'm directing ‘Billy Elliot’ for Free Rain Theatre. Steph is directing Everyman’s next production, ‘Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.’ Then I'm super excited to be directing the Canberra premiere of the two-part epic ‘The Inheritance.’
Queers, Curated by Mark Gatiss is showing 14-24 February 2024 at the ACT Hub at Causeway Hall