Who Knows?

Company Name: Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company
Devised: Philip Timmins, Sarah Hardy and Bruce Bayley
Director: Philip Timmins
Cast: Kenny Irvine, Michelle Golaz, Peter Hall, Gary James, Chris Lada, Kate Oliver, Christine Richmond, Jayne Roberts, Lizzie Windor
Designer: Paul Dart.
Year: 1979

At the Royal Court, Gerald Chapman, a long-term member of Gay Sweatshop, had been made head of the Young People’s Theatre Scheme. In 1979 the theatre ran a season of plays titled Youth and Sexuality, the play Who Knows? was produced by Gay Sweatshop and dealt specifically with a gay teenage girl’s experience of coming out. It toured across Britain but was banned from most schools.

Who Knows? … manages to make so many points about the difficulties of coming out, the problems of monogamy, the structuring of adolescent sexuality, the ‘generation gap’, racism, how unemployment affects women etc, all in the space of an hour, that one leaves breathless and astonished.

The play begins with the accidental coming out of a former head girl of a typical secondary school. Her picture is seen in a national paper, after she had been on a gay demonstration, and is shown with glee to a small group of friends who all knew her — to disastrous effect. Gathered together after a disco they hold a mock trial of Claire, brutally impelled by the straight gay-baiting Colin. During this (and it’s a fine set piece allowing comment on roles, stereotyping and differential gender expectations), one of the boys, Robin comes out with dignity and courage, appalling Colin but bringing Robin much closer to his straight ‘best friend’. The rest of the play is really a series of confrontations between gay life and the straight world and its restrictions and expectations, including a very funny scene when Den, Robin’s mate, meets Robin’s lover, who also happens to be Black. The potential mawkishness and tokenism of that scene is redeemed by a wry humour, and the excellent acting of the protagonists. The play ends with a mixed straight and gay group going off to see Tom Robinson whilst the embittered Colin who has been trashed physically by both Robin and Claire prepares to redeem his masculinity with a flick-knife. That threat hangs in the air, as ‘Glad to be Gay’ plays over the sound system.

‘Who Knows? was presented at the Royal Court Youth Theatre for audiences of school pupils, who, at least whilst I was there seemed to react with enthusiasm to the Out and sexually upfront content of the play. Sweatshop hope to tour with the play, and it would be a shame if such a finely honed production (directed by Philip Timmins, and whose cast are ‘unknowns’ who no longer deserve anonymity) did not play to larger audiences. In much the same way, one can but hope that Ophelia does not sink into obscurity.’ From Gay Left Issue 9

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