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A Gay Century

Lockdown Readings

Online - 28 April to 23 June 2020

Programme of Readings

Peter Scott‐Presland is currently writing the most ambitious, the most enormous, the most wide‐ranging piece of gay music theatre ever devised.

‘A Gay Century’ is a cycle of gay chamber operas covering the period 1900 (death of Oscar Wilde) to 2001 (first civil partnerships introduced in London experimentally by mayor Ken Livingstone). Peter originally intended that there would be one for each decade, but it is growing in the writing, and eventually there are likely to be 12 to 15 of them, making the completed work longer than the Ring Cycle.

The music is by respected composer and gay rights activist Robert Ely. Robert was an acclaimed military band leader and award‐winning arranger in several regimental bands, ending as Senior Bandmaster of the Parachute Regiment. He was cashiered from the Army in 1986, when they discovered he was gay, and went on to campaign for the rights of LGBT service personnel.

Robert and Peter agreed from the start that each opera would be a one‐act piece and would involve no more than seven performers ‐ three actors, four musicians or four actors and three musicians, for example.

The operas are designed to be performed in a series of double bills but could be paired in any combination which looks interesting. There are several themes which resonate through more than one opera. Some involving historical figures are based on fact, some on fantasy extrapolated from fact, and some that are based on ‘ordinary’ gay men are purely fiction.

They were to be aimed at the numerous ‘pop-up’ opera companies in the UK and US ‐ companies with limited resources, but a commitment to new and exciting work and to taking opera out of the opera house to the people.

The project is called A GAY CENTURY, as opposed to THE Gay Century, because it is one gay man’s view, and Peter has seized on the things which he finds interesting and quirky, which fit into the shape of a suitable plot. No doubt others could write ‘Another Gay Century’ and come up with completely different subjects.

Equally it is the ‘Gay’ Century, as opposed to the ‘Queer’ Century, because that is how Peter and Robert define their own sexuality; it’s also the subject matter that has engaged Peter for the last 45 years. We look forward to the Lesbian Century, the Trans Century, the Non-Binary Century and the rest.


The pieces that make up A Gay Century at the moment are:

1900 : Prologue ‐ Two Queens

This is the story of gay life in the twentieth century ‐ leaving aside a lot of people simply living, loving and enjoying themselves. It is the story of an epic battle between repression and liberation.

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1907 : The Jewels

A new century and a new monarch, but memories of the old century linger on. Edward VII is far more homophobic than his mother, Victoria.

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1912 : A Helping Hand

The genesis of EM Forster’s queer novel Maurice is well known; Forster himself gives an account of it in his 1960 introduction to the novel, which still didn’t appear until 1971, after his death.

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1918 : Front

Wilde’s first lover is visited by his protégé, Siegfried Sassoon, but their evening is interrupted by the Boy Actor Noel Coward.

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1928 : Sauce for the Gander

The publishers of The Well of Loneliness are about to be prosecuted for obscenity. Radclyffe Hall demands that she be prosecuted too, so she can proclaim her 'inversion' to the world. Compton Mackenzie demands that he too be prosecuted for his lesbian novel, Extraordinary Women.

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1932 : The Berlin Boy

An innocent rent boy comes to Berlin from a village in East Prussia and falls under the spell of the older charismatic Gerald Harley. A version of Dietrich’s iconic film The Blue Angel.

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1936 : Fishing

A chance encounter between a schoolboy and Wilde's other great love, Lord Alfred Douglas, leads to a lifelong feeling of guilt and regret on the part of the boy.

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1944 : Home Fires

Ivor Novello, composer and matinee idol, is imprisoned for fiddling his petrol coupons during wartime rationing. He finds himself sharing a cell with a young psychopath, Mad Frankie Frazer.

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1958 : Separate Beds

Eric and Edgar are driven to panic when a car crashes outside their flat. The police come asking questions and the signs of homosexual co’habitation will be all too obvious.

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1962/1975 : The Dog It Was That Died

The familiar story of Jeremy Thorpe’s attempted murder of his ex‐lover Norman Scott is given a new twist when it is told from the viewpoint of the two dogs involved.

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1973 : November

The brave new world of radical gay activism, and the traditional world of glittery but closeted camp, personified by the ageing cabaret star Valentine de Vere.

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1982 : After Sefton

1981-82 was a busy year for the IRA, and a bloody year for Londoners.

In 1981, Chelsea Barracks was bombed closely followed by a car bomb in Dulwich and in Oxford Street.

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1983 : Eric Lives with Martin and Jenny

Jenny lives with Eric and Martin became a cause celebre of the 1980s, when Tory MP Dame Jill Knight seized on it as an example of homosexual propaganda in schools.

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1984 : Quarantine

A dystopian fantasy of the future as seen by numerous gay activists at the time, based on the panic and fear felt in the face of the new ‘gay plague’.

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1986 : A Shot at the Future

A lesbian couple decide to have a baby and ask their gay best friend to be the father. His partner is not so keen. The process changes all their lives.

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1982/1995 : Full Circle

A rent boy connects the Queen’s bodyguard Commander Trestrail, filmmaker Derek Jarman, the pop star Ricky Soulshine, and Her Majesty herself.

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1999 : Skin Deep

Three characters struggle with the trauma of being involved in the Admiral Duncan bombings, and trying to get their lives into shape after they have been shattered.

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2001 : Hitched

103-year-old Barry Foster-Darling is preparing for his civil partnership ceremony with his life companion Gary Foster-Darling (98), but a young Filipino carer is coming between them.

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