EVERYMAN Theatre is about to transform The Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre Centre into a convivial English tavern with a bar, seats and tables for its latest show, “Queers”.
A series of monologues by British playwrights put together by Mark Gatiss, best known for writing and acting in “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who”, will see actors Chris Baldock, Pippin Carroll, Colin Giles, Cole Hilder, Alex Hoskison, Karina Hudson and Jess Waterhouse revealing what it meant to be queer during different years over the last century.
Commissioned in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexuality in the UK, it was written by playwrights, Gatiss, Jackie Clune, Matthew Baldwin, Gareth McLean, Jon Bradfield, Keith Jarrett, Michael Dennis and Brian Fillis and staged at the Old Vic in London, which commissioned the work from funds provided through the TS Eliot Estate.
Co-director with Jarrad West, Steph Roberts explains that it was also conceived as a TV program, “Gay Britannia”, but says: “To me it seems like a theatre piece, you can see how the playwrights have structured it and the language is quite poetic.”
“Before we embarked on it we sat down and talked about how we would approach it.
“Rehearsals so far have been one-on-one sessions with an actor rehearsing with either one or the other of us, and then we swap over.”
Roberts and West have adopted a most unusual approach to directing, with a division of labour at rehearsal time, although for the final weeks they’ll rehearse in the venue, all together.
“It’s really worked quite well as the cast gets to review their interpositions,” she says.
“Jarrad and I’ve been on the same page but we work in different ways, as we are two different people in the way we relate to actors.”
Roberts gives us a hint of what’s in store.
The opening piece by Gatiss is the evocative “The Man on the Platform” where we meet a soldier on leave from the trenches during 1917. He’s gay but that can’t be openly discussed – and he’s fallen in love for the first time.
Book ending that is “Something Borrowed”, by Alan Cumming, set almost 100 years later, as a groom-to-be prepares for his gay wedding. It illustrates how far things have come, but it’s not smooth sailing.
And, yes, there are pieces by and about women.
In “The Perfect Gentleman” by Jackie Clune, set in the 1920s, a woman dressed as a man longs to feel free. In “Missing Alice” by Jon Bradfield, set in 1957, a woman discovers she has become the respectable cover for her husband’s affairs with men.
“It’ll be an immersive experience,” Roberts says, with The Beards – Louiza Blomfield and Alex Unikowski – providing musical atmosphere as the audience and the actors sit together, united.
“Queers”, April 5-20, The Courtyard Studio. Book at canberratheatrecentre.com.au