It was on the afternoon of the penultimate preview of my play 'The Pride', which is being revived at The Trafalgar Studios in a production directed by Jamie Lloyd, that we all made our way down Whitehall to the demonstration being held opposite Downing Street in protest at the Russian government's latest war on its gay and lesbian community. The actors were all there - Hayley Atwell, Mathew Horne, Al Weaver and Harry Hadden-Paton - and so were Jamie and his assistant director Ed. We were also joined by Hayley's mother Allison, a wonderful woman with a great spirit and an activist history. The eight of us moved into the centre of the throng and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of men and women who were peacefully protesting against this latest bout of state-sponsored hatred. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and the message was loud and passionate. And I suddenly realised how lucky I was that the play was returning to London at this particular moment in time.
Because it strikes me that we are reaching some sort of tipping point when it comes to gay issues: that on some fundamental level of global consciousness the final battle is being fought between progress and fear. In many parts of the West, including Britain, a vast step forward has been made by allowing gay couples to marry each other. This symbolic and important gesture signals to the world that gay men and women are equal in every way to their straight friends and that their relationships with each other are just as valid, just as important. And perhaps as a response against this progressive tide, vast parts of the world are still clinging to a version of life in which homosexuality is a threat to the common good, an enemy, something that needs to be suppressed and obliterated and denied.
When I first wrote the play five years ago, it was these issues that I most wanted to investigate : the constant raging battles between love and fear that we all carry within us, both as individuals and collectively. In giving these ideas a dramatic context I began to realise that what mattered more than anything was the struggle all people had to fight in order to understand themselves both sexually and emotionally. Within the context of the story I wrote, this pursuit is personified in the character of Oliver, beautifully brought to life in this production by Al Weaver. With the help of his best friend Sylvia ( another remarkable performance by Hayley) Oliver asks himself the most fundamental questions about what it is that defines him and about all the aspects of his nature which he has unconsciously inherited from previous generations. Egged on by Sylvia's somewhat Socratic interrogation he is forced to face the darkest aspects of his sexuality as well as reach for something else: a new definition of himself which is not conditioned by the objectifying views of others.
As we were leaving the demonstration to walk the few hundred metres back to the theatre we came up with the idea that we should use some of the banners during the curtain call that night and the ones we chose, which were kindly supplied to us by a group of young men, simply read : TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE. At that night's performance, when the actors came out holding them, the response from the audience was electric because they immediately made the connection between what they had just watched and what was going on in countries like Russia. And with that correlation something else seemed to dawn on us in that moment of applause : that what we are witnessing these days is not simply a conflict between gay people and those who, for whatever reasons, don't like them. It is a clash between two ways of seeing the world - one in which, constant questioning and self-reflection offers hope and the promise of self-knowledge, and the other, in which power and trepidation feed on themselves and keep the world frozen in a backward-looking stance of reaction. As the four brilliant actors of 'The Pride' lifted the banners above their heads and waved them at the audience I felt very proud that what we had all created could generate this sort of response and asked myself how theatre could ever be anything other than political.
The Pride is at the Trafalgar Studios (14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY) till 9 November