What it means to be gay has been dissected and analysed every which way in theatre over the past 30-odd years.
As times have changed so have the experiences portrayed in drama. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride compares the difficulties that gay men faced in 1958 and 2008. Its strength is that it doesn’t delve into the political and health areas so often covered in LGBTQ+ writing. The key theme here is far simpler than that: loneliness. This condition doesn’t recognise gender, sexuality or even time, and I suspect there wasn’t a single member of the sold-out audience who didn’t relate to at least some of the emotions portrayed.
At two and a half hours, the play meanders a little (the endless curtain pulling offers little in the way of scene setting) but it is economically and intimately staged and, when it hits the mark, extremely affecting.
This is in no small measure due to the cast. The three leads play roles from each era and manage to switch between their 1958 and 2008 characters with skill and efficiency. Simon Hallman is particularly effective as Oliver. Tentative, twitchy yet ultimately courageous in the 50s; hedonistic, self-centred and bitchy half a century on. Both characters are poles apart yet linked by their desperate need to believe there is someone out there they can love who feels the same way they do. There is also the harder task of trying to feel they are worthy of being loved in return.
Joanna Leese as Sylvia beautifully embodies the heartbreak of Sylvia circa 1958, all too intuitively aware that she can never make her husband happy and, as a result, suffering just as painfully as her male counterparts. The 2008 version is the ‘fag hag’ who feels guilty for daring to have a relationship of her own. The love triangle is completed by Gareth George, wringing every ounce of self-loathing and disgust as the husband in 1958. An aversion therapy scene was particularly chilling. Laughs are sparingly dropped into the play, mostly from Alex Thompson as an unconventional rent boy, one of a trio of roles the actor has in the play.
This is the debut production from Green Carnation Company who aim to tackle contemporary issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. Often, we must look to the past to assess where we are now, and although links between eras are not always clear in The Pride, the younger community in particular would do well to head to Hope Mill Theatre to see just how the odds were stacked against them in 1958.