Homo Promos started performing Zoom readings in response to the closure of theatres and other venues on Tuesday 29 March 2020.
The first series ran to July 2020, and the second from September to the start of December 2020. Now that we’re faced with a new lockdown almost as severe as the first, the oldest LGBT+ theatre company in the UK (founded 1988) swings into action again.
This time we are delving into our archive, and that of our predecessors, One in Ten Theatre (1975-1979) and Consenting Adults in Public (1980-1987), to celebrate a dramatic heritage which goes back almost fifty years.
Every Tuesday at 8 p.m. from 5 January to 23 March 2021 we will be performing via Zoom, a play which was presented by one of these companies, or by a member of one of them.
Many are by Peter Scott-Presland/Eric Presland; but probably the most important is the first play in the world about AIDS/HIV, AntiBody by Louise Parker Kelley. This was premiered and directed by Presland at the Cockpit Theatre in October 1983 at a time when there were under thirty cases in the UK. It is now a period piece but of profound historic importance.
The plays cover the gamut of emotions, from the farces of the Heath Plays (1981-1985) to the angry Triptych (1990), about gay oppression from Roman times to the Vietnam war, and to probing ‘problem plays’, dissecting some of our community dilemmas, such as Nothing Personal (1978) set in a Lesbian and Gay Helpline.
The full programme:
LATE EXTRA: Owing to technical difficulties during the reading on 5 January, a repeat performance of Jekyll & Hyde will take place during the 4th series of lockdown readings starting April 2021.
JEKYLL & HYDE (2020) by Peter Scott-Presland
A reimagining of the classic RL Stevenson tale of corruption and evil, transferred to Edinburgh and set specifically just after the passage of the Labouchere amendment in August 1885, which criminalised all manifestations of same-sex desire. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published less than six months later.
In this version, Jekyll is a universal benefactor to the city and the poor. Hyde, played by a separate actor unlike in the film and stage versions, is the hedonist who lurks beneath the façade of Victorian respectability. The Freudian conflict is played out with lust, exploitation, murder, and hypocrisy at its heart. Ideal Christmas viewing!
12 January 2021
CAMPFIRE (1985) by Eric Presland
The 4th of the Heath Plays is a manic farce of Boy Scouts and Leather Men, where each group is camping in the great outdoors (Tring), separated only by a narrow coppice. The Scouts are having a campfire entertainment, the Leather Men a fancy dress party. Throw in one visiting Inspecting Commissioner, long-lost identical twins, a passionate relationship and some blancmange, and mayhem ensues.
19 January 2021
JERKER by Robert Chesley (1986)
One of the earliest and most poignant HIV-themed plays, which takes as its starting point the sex phone lines which sprang up during the AIDS pandemic. Emotional commitment and even love spring up from the arid soil of anonymous jerk-off encounters as two men cling to each other in the surrounding darkness.
26 January 2021
NOTHING PERSONAL (1978)
Set among the volunteers on a Gay Switchboard in the late 1970s, the play explores the ideological and emotional conflicts involved in such work. Norton is the administrator, efficient, impersonal, committed to professionalism and getting charitable status.
Squirrel is a former hippie and Gay Liberation Front member, emotional, intensely committed, exhausted and incapable of saying no. One caller, Roger, tests Squirrel’s commitment to the limit. How far do you go to persuade a ‘no-hoper’ that gay is good and coming out is right?
2 February 2021
A GOOD OL’ BOY/STAR TURN (1988) by Eric Presland
A double bill of widely different monologues. In A Good O’ Boy, a relic of the Deep South, reduced to being a cleaner in a fast-food restaurant, he is faced with making a choice. Does he hate Afro-Americans more than queers, or will his poverty force him into some sort of redemption?
This play was rejected by the BBC on the grounds of its language. “The satire is strong, as is the very gutsy irony” – The Scotsman.
In Star Turn, former film star Dick Babbage, is reduced to auditioning for a minor part in a regional production of Othello. Between stories of his glory days, he gradually reveals the story of the relationship which brought his downfall.
Yet there is a final twist, which offers hope for the future. “On one level it’s quite pathetic, as he bores the young auditionees about his good old days, but I found the whole monologue moving.” – The Scotsman.
9 February 2021
DOUBLE VISION/LERV by Eric Presland
In Double Vision, Gervase, a washed-up has been, is writing a novel. In the novel, Jim, an aspiring writer whose looks will be good for marketing and whose lack of talent won’t, is writing a novel. Jim’s novel is about a washed-up writer, Gervase, whose lover, Cyril, is about to leave him.
Jim’s new boyfriend Adam is full of admiration for his talent, but only, says Gervase, because he is stupid. Besides, Adam has also been seeing someone else, Cyril. A post-post-structuralist comedy.
Lerv is a short entr’acte about a love triangle between Mutt and Jeff, two stagehands, and a bentwood chair. Jeff expresses his love entirely through Shirley Bassey songs. No good can come of it.
16 February 2021
LORD AUDLEY’S SECRET (1983) by Eric Presland
A sensational and affecting mellow drama in three acts. Augustus Manleigh and his manly Life Companion, Jed, live a simple life in a simple cottage until threatened with eviction by Lord Audley, the brutal husband of beauteous Lady Audley and all-round rotten egg.
Augustus disappears and rumour has it he is going for a seaman. Jed falls apart and takes to drink, encouraged by the lecherous and bibulous Rev. Jonas Toadspawn. But help is at hand in the shape of a mysterious gypsy (or Roma if you prefer) Tara Masalata. Murder! Drowning! A burning barn! A demon barber! Authentic Victorian jokes!
23 February 2021
TRIPTYCH (1991) by Ian Lucas
Triptych is three inter-related monologues of oppression and resistance. In the first the boy Druid, Marban, is on the run from brutal Roman soldiers who have raped him. Conceived as a response to Howard Brenton’s Romans in Britain, where the boy is the silent victim of the assault, a symbol of helplessness in the face of imperialism. Lucas gives him a voice.
In the second, Inge is a Norwegian drag queen working in the Resistance against the Nazis. Captured, she displays extraordinary fortitude under torture. A tribute to forgotten gay heroes and the connections in courage.
The third is set in the Vietnam War and continues the theme with a soldier lamenting over the body of his G.I. lover. The author will be participating from Coventry.
2 March 2021
ANTIBODY (1982/3) by Louise Parker Kelley
When we started rehearsal for this there were fourteen cases of AIDS in the UK. By the time we closed there were twenty-eight. People were largely shrugging it off, in much the same way as Britain shrugged off the mysterious cases of infection from a wet market in Wuhan in 2020.
So, AntiBody was dismissed as scaremongering, hysterical, sex-denying, and nothing to do with us. That is why much of the play is taken up with simple education. This was a time when the safer sex advice being given out was “Don’t sleep with Americans.”
But the play goes far beyond informing people. The central character, William, is a newly diagnosed gay man facing what was then a 40% chance of dying. However, he uses his own death as a means to improve the chances of others. This stops the play being maudlin.
I also like the fact that William is part of a dynamic lesbian and gay community, which is shown in all its gutsiness and commitment. This is a stark contrast to the solitary suffering portrayed elsewhere. AntiBody was ground-breaking and deserves much more recognition. The author will be participating from Washington DC.
9 March 2021
A POT OF TEA FOR TWO (2009) by Peter Scott-Presland
Eileen’s son Robert has just come home. He hasn’t been for many years, not since his father, Eileen’s husband Gerald, threw him out one Christmas holiday. What’s more, he’s bringing Declan; his new partner?
Eileen has put them together in the best bedroom to show them everything is all right. Now she wants to prove it some more and is making morning tea to take them in bed.
But Eileen is suffering incipient dementia. She’s hidden it for a long time, keeping the house together for Gerald. But now Gerald’s gone and everything seems much more difficult. Tea, milk, sugar, kettle, biscuits? No, kettle first, water in kettle.
Eileen wants to get it just right to show what has passed is past. But how can she with Gerald always shouting in her ear?
16 March 2021
PRIVATE MEMBER (1990) by Mark Bunyan
A devastating look at the inner workings of the Tory Party and the Tory mentality. Robin is a new, ambitious MP who is anxious to claw his way up the hierarchy. But he is hampered by his own mediocrity and his attachment to Tim, his younger lover.
Despite his situation, he supported Clause 28 in a breath-taking instance of conscience trampled by self-interest, to Tim’s disgust. Will their relationship survive?
The spectre of AIDS hovers over the dilemma, as the ghosts of two of their friends provide their own commentary. Meanwhile, Robin’s best friend Beatrice, yearns to be chair of her constituency party, every time one of her husbands dies.
23 March 2021
LEVITATION (1984) by Timothy Mason
Homo Promos presented this in 1994, one of our most ambitious productions with a real solid set and a cast of nine, including four marvellous actors over seventy who are rare as pearls in the world of Fringe Theatre.
It is set on the back porch of a mid-Western house with a swing in the back garden. Joe is returning to his parents on the night of a spectacular meteor shower. One by one his parents, his sister, and his nephew appear in the back garden.
His father Arthur talks about his old schoolteacher, who duly appears, though she must be 120 years old, and then his lover Ira appears who’s meant to be in New York.
Finally, an elderly figure in a bathrobe, whom Arthur remembers seeing land a plane in his field in 1928. The play ends in a waltz to the music of time under the fireworks of the meteor shower, The Tears of St Lawrence. An infinitely wise, profoundly humanistic play, moving and beautiful. The author will be participating from New York.
Who knows where we’ll all be by 23 March. Will we still be locked down and waiting for a vaccine? Or frolicking in demob frenzy and a hysterical orgy of self-indulgence?
If spirits still need cheering, Homo Promos has a fourth season ready to run for seven weeks from 12 April 2021. Details to be announced nearer the time.