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How shame and gay-on-gay fighting inspired All That

30 July 2021

I’m pretty obsessed with Lil Nas X at the moment, so let me shoe-horn in a little quote from a recent interview he did with GQ. He said it years after I started working on my play All That, but it definitely applies.

Explaining how he initially felt he had to keep his queerness palatable and "respectable" to the masses, he spoke of his fears that he’d have to present himself “like I’m gay but I’m not ‘gay’... Like, I’m gay but I have to make sure you feel like I can be straight-passing too.”

Thankfully, he’s shaken off that mindset and let himself be as openly, brazenly, explicitly homosexual as he wants to be. But – and this is where All That comes in - many LGBTQ+ folks do feel a sense of wanting to keep up something of an acceptable, "straight-acting" front. And while there could be any number of reasons for that, what’s really disappointing is when they look down with disdain at others in the community who go their own way and refuse to play along.

I remember when a gloriously camp act called Bratavio was on The X Factor a few years ago. They were clearly on the show for entertainment value rather than for any vocal prowess; but when I had a glance at social media, the homophobia directed towards them was insane - not least because a lot of it was coming from other gay men, saying things like “they’re giving gays a bad name”, “they’re embarrassing all of us”, “now straight people are gonna think we’re all like that” and so on (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the general gist).

In All That, Taylor (played by the really bloody brilliant Jordan Laviniere) would probably read those comments and hit ‘like’.

He’s only a few steps away from being Hyacinth Bucket in a millennial gay man’s body: in the very first scene, within minutes of meeting potential lodgers, he’s already gossiping about a neighbour and making sure everyone's fully aware of what day the bins are collected.

When said potential lodgers then move in and Taylor finds out that (mild spoiler) they’re in a sexually non-monogamous relationship, he couldn’t clutch his pearls any harder. He's horrified that he’s found himself living with the sorts of queer people who don’t give a second thought to being what he would describe as “normal”.

Over the course of the play, his attitudes towards things like sex, monogamy and heteronormativity are challenged and explored – and it’s not long before wires cross, tensions escalate, and things in this shared house get pretty bloody messy in more ways than one.

In the end – without giving too much away – we realise Taylor's spent so long trying to have the life he thinks should have that he hasn’t ever actually stopped and thought about who he’d be if he wasn’t so desperate to be embraced by his straight, middle class, small-c conservative environment.

And that theme of honesty (in Taylor’s case, honesty with himself) applies to all the other characters, too.

Those lodgers, Parker and Jamie (played by the exceptional double act that is Matt Greenwood and Imran Adams), may have shunned conventional monogamy in favour of something that works for them, but they still have their own issues to address. The golden rule in their open relationship has always been honesty – but when it comes to their deepest fears and anxieties, are they really telling each-other everything?

And as for Taylor’s long-term boyfriend Riley (the ludicrously endearing Chris Jenkins), he’s given up a lot to be with him; not least a career as a bit of a fanciable pin-up in the public eye. But is he happy? When he said he didn't mind leaving that life behind and settling down in suburbia with Taylor, did he really mean it?

Led by the heroic James Callàs Ball, we’ve got such an amazing team getting this show on stage, and I’m so excited and grateful to be back at one of my absolute favourite theatres at such a crucial (if challenging) time for our industry.

These four very different characters in their two very different relationships each have their own stuff going on, and I hope All That gives people plenty to relate to and plenty to think about… whilst also, hopefully, being a bit of a laugh.

By Shaun Kitchener, Writer All That