The more things change, the more they stay the same?
This question has been on my mind about LGBTQ quality of life in the UK for many years. One massive step forward: we can be ourselves out in the world like never before. Regulations were passed this year for LGBTQ-inclusive relationships and sex education to start in September 2020. But this major breakthrough clashes with headlines about protests by phobic parents at schools and a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. The charity Stonewall’s latest UK School Report study in 2017 found that almost half of all LGBT people at school still face bullying, half regularly hear homophobic insults, and many suffer low self-worth, self-harm and attempt suicide. Two steps back?
With my new play, I asked this big question about social progress for LGBTQ people by getting more personal than I’d ever expected to as a writer.
I’m excited to be bringing Really Want to Hurt Me, which I’ve written and directed, to Theatr Clwyd in September for its Welsh debut as part of a UK tour, performed by the brilliant young actor Ryan Price.
The play’s a dark comedy – with dance sequences – about growing up gay in ‘80s Devon, based on my own experiences. It follows a schoolboy as he ages from 14 in 1984 to 16 in 1986. Constant pressure to be straight and ‘masculine’ makes him feel like he’s living in the thought-control world of Orwell’s 1984. He struggles with the daily pressures of being bullied and having to hide his identity, feeling isolated and hopeless. But he also finds hope in the fantasy escapism of pop and indie music, and later by becoming different characters in plays at school and beyond, instead of the fake self he is forced to pretend to be every day.
Really Want to Hurt Me is for anyone who’s been that bullied person or outsider at school, who turns to music or theatre to find a safer place; to escape the threats of violence from others, and from self-harm, but also to find themselves for the first time. It’s a story about our early years, before the fierce, fabulous stuff (maybe, eventually) happens. A story about where we started out – the awkward parts we often try to disown later on. There’s plenty of comedy alongside the heartache and a killer soundtrack of classic ‘80s songs from the likes of Culture Club, Tears for Fears, Eurythmics, The Smiths and Kate Bush. We had a lot of fun picking all these tracks!
It’s a small-town story of LGBTQ self-awakening, compared to the big city stories we see more often, so it was important for me to make sure it reaches audiences around the UK. And it’s for anyone aged 14+, so I really hope that some of the LGBTQ people at school now can come along to see it.
We had our first short scratch version of the play in a London showcase two years ago. Arts Council England funding was the lifeline that then made it possible to preview the full-length version at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, and at the Old Red Lion and Theatre503 in London. After we had a good response from audiences and critics, we took the plunge and went for a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and ended last year in the Soho Rising festival at Soho Theatre.
Audiences have told us how the show reflects their own life experiences, whether they grew up in the ‘80s or an earlier era, or they’re dealing with these issues as young people now. That’s been the most powerful and rewarding aspect of touring it, knowing it rings true to such a mix of people, and also hearing from non-LGBTQ people that it has given them a deeper emotional understanding of what their friends or family members have dealt with.
We can’t wait to bring the show to Mold on 18th and 19th September at 7.45pm, with a post-show discussion on the first night. Maybe you’ll join us to say how far you think things have changed since the ‘80s? One step forward?…