Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 1998

Formed in 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival was gate-crashed by eight theatre companies. A journalist described these additional productions as being “on the fringes of the Festival” and the name stuck. Tony Challis, our accredited correspondent at the Fringe, reviews some of the events with a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender theme.

Theatrical Transformations

by Tony Challis

You do not know what you might be if you were not as you are. Many influences, experiences, accidents have added to a genetic blueprint to produce you. What might you be? What transformations might be possible? In the events being performed all around Edinburgh as I write, many possibilities are suggested.

In the Lady Boys of Bangkok at the Theatre Big Top in the Meadows, the transformation from man to woman was shown. This included a particularly striking figure who is male down the right side and female – in a bright pink dress – down the left. The costumes were spectacular, and I found myself wondering just how much some of the headdresses weighed. If you sat at the front tables, you had the chance of a substantial Japanese “woman” sitting on your knee. Perhaps it was just as well we had chosen not to sit there.

King of the Halls: a Rags to Drag Story showed us women “becoming” men primarily in Victorian Music Hall with top hats and twirling moustaches. As they said, “If you want to get ahead, get a top hat and two socks down your crotch.”

Bi Now – Pay Later dealt with the problems caused by prejudice against bisexuality from both mainstream and minority groups. This play imagines the central character, Michael, experiencing more problems about his bisexuality in purgatory than on earth. However, I’m not sure how necessary this supernatural playfulness was – bisexual problems are real and earthbound.

Sartrean existentialism appeared to mingle with Sondheim-type lyrics and Chekhov in a show called Moscow. Here three American gay men are trapped in an empty theatre – perhaps for ever – and one, who has specialised in studying Chekhov, is insisting that they learn The Three Sisters, each playing the role of a sister. There is comedy, confusion, a love triangle, and shades of Huis Clos – “Hell is other people.” The lyrics are sharp and witty, and the show is moving and provoking. This won a “Fringe First”. (In each of the three weeks of the Fringe Festival, the Scotsman newspaper awards five of the several hundred shows of that week a “First”, and it is then guaranteed full houses!)

Absolute Banana Theatre Company put on a stage version of Beautiful Thing, already a very successful film. This touching story was performed by a young student cast. Jill Coles played the part of Sandra, the mother, very effectively, using voice and body language to good effect to convey someone much older than herself. Benjamin Trumper and James Forshaw, as the teenage lovers Jamie and Ste, conveyed the initial unawareness and mutual embarrassment of the two youths well. Here was a good example of the irrelevance of the law as two young people found what they needed emotionally and were transformed by their first experience of a loving sexual relationship.

Born to be Wilde explores the existence and feelings of someone largely forgotten: Vyvyan Holland, Oscar Wilde’s younger son, who was forced to have his name changed as a child. This was someone whose father was a scandal, who was sent to various countries, who was debarred from playing with neighbouring boys because he was seen as a “danger”, who attempted suicide at the age of twelve, and who only discovered his father’s true feelings on losing his family in his late teens and being given the manuscript of De Profundis.

The play concerns Vyvyan’s thoughts when, on the eve of his twenty-first birthday, he has to give a speech before many literary luminaries. Well researched and very professionally performed, the play provides insight into the ways in which the lives of Wilde’s whole family were disastrously transformed by his fate.

There is amazing variety and richness here at the fringe and I recommend you to sample it for yourselves next year if you can.

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