Go west! Gay storylines are drawing crowds to theatres in London's West End and fringe

Nina Lakhani
Sunday 26 April 2009 00:00

The best of times is now, goes the song in La Cage aux Folles. And so it would seem for gay plays and musicals. No fewer than 10 productions currently in London's West End feature gay themes or talent.

Box-office successes for Jason Donovan in the transvestite road trip Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Alan Bennett's biographical Enjoy, and Graham Norton in the award-winning La Cage have shattered the widely held belief that gay theatre doesn't sell.

Gradually, gay productions have taken a stronghold over ticket sales to an unprecedented level. Nicholas de Jongh, theatre critic and writer of Plague over England, believes theatre producers may have at last realised gay plays do bring in audiences. "There are a lot of gay plays and musicals around; in fact, I don't ever remember seeing more. For years producers thought anything specifically gay was a no-go in terms of bringing in large audiences. But the success of La Cage and Priscilla seems to be proving them wrong. I've been watching the audiences who come to see my play, which deals with a gay witch-hunt in the 1950s, and these audiences are just as varied. I'm not sure of the significance, but it is a fact."

But Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay, lesbian and bisexual campaign group Stonewall, said: "The fact that there are seven or eight major productions with gay themes or characters is probably nothing more than an unlikely alignment of the platforms. I would be surprised if there were the same number this time next year."

Plague over England

Nicholas de Jongh, Duchess Theatre

Premiered at the Finborough Theatre last year; run ends 2 May

Cast highlights: Michael Feast knew Gielgud personally, while Celia Imrie shines as Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Synopsis: Critic-turned-writer de Jongh re-creates 1950s bohemian London in this story of John Gielgud's 1953 arrest in a public lavatory for "importuning men for immoral purposes".

The Backroom

Adrian Pagan, Cock Tavern Theatre; Ends 2 May

Cast highlights: Neil Cunningham and Will Stokes

Synopsis: Rivalry erupts among the sex workers in a gay brothel in Earls Court as the new boy quickly becomes a favourite.

Zanna, Don't!

Tim Acito, Space; Runs 5-9 May, then 9 June-5 July Upstairs at the Gatehouse in north London

Cast highlights: Mike Shearer leads; Michael Cotton, Kate Malyon and Michael Stacey follow

Synopsis: A comic parody in which a musical matchmaker and friends in a fantasy homosexual world are rocked by a clandestine heterosexual relationship.

La Cage aux Folles

Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman, Playhouse Theatre; Has been at the Playhouse since 20 October

Cast highlights: Graham Norton and Steven Pacey are set to be replaced by Roger Allam and Philip Quast from 4 May.

Synopsis: Farcical sexual identity adventure surrounds lovers Georges and Albin when Georges' son announces his engagement to the daughter of an ultra-conservative local politician.

Fucking Men

Joe DiPietro, King's Head, Islington; Run extended until 6 June

Cast highlights: Stephen Billington and Matthew Clancy

Synopsis: A series of 10 sexual encounters, flowing from the initial fumblings of a soldier and a male prostitute, highlighting varying attitudes towards sex and love in the gay community.

Three Days of Rain

Richard Greenberg, Apollo Theatre; Running from 30 January to 2 May

Cast highlights: James McAvoy, Nigel Harman and Lyndsey Marshal glow through the downpour.

Synopsis: A brother and sister meet a friend to discover the dynamics behind the relationship between their fathers in the same flat a generation previously.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott, Palace Theatre; In London since 23 March 23

Cast highlights: Jason Donovan takes the lead (giving a fresh angle to the many Kylie references throughout), alongside Tony Sheldon and Oliver Thornton.

Synopsis: Two drag queens and a transsexual embark on the campest of road trips through the Australian outback.


John Stanley, Above the Stag Theatre; On a four-week run since 14 April

Cast highlights: Jay Brown and Nic Gilder

Synopsis: A gay boxer attempts to spend his 18th birthday party with his family, his significantly senior lover and his homophobic trainer.

Entertaining Mr Sloane

Joe Orton, Trafalgar Studios; Ran from 29 January to 11 April

Cast highlights: Mathew Horne's star was nearly outshone by the brilliant Imelda Staunton, though audiences were entertained equally by Simon Paisley Day.

Synopsis: Bisexual blackmail and brutal violence as a brother and sister entrap a handsome con man and murderer.


Alan Bennett, Gielgud Theatre; Running from 2 February until 16 May

Cast highlights: Alison Steadman and David Troughton star in a rarely performed gem.

Synopsis: This early work by Bennett is replete with voyeurism, casual violence, gender-swapping, inferred incest and rampant sexual comedy.

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