The Company Closes

By 1988 Gay Pride had doubled the amount of attendees from what it had been in previous years. Gay Sweatshop continued to work for another 10 years. In 1991 the company was awarded revenue funding on the condition that they employed a male and a female Artistic Director. Lois Weaver and James Neale-Kennerly were duly appointed. The company produced and toured a number of productions, but as other companies that also dealt with the issues of personal identity politics gained more recognition, interest in Gay Sweatshop diminished. Eventually the company had to close due to lack of funding in 1997.
Over the course of three decades Gay Sweatshop found themselves in direct conflict with the State and were an outspoken voice against the prejudice facing homosexuals in all sections of society. The history of the company runs parallel to the history of radical social change that was taking place in Britain. They were responsible for many productions that linked gender and sexuality to the other themes of radical politics and placed the experience of lesbians and gay men centre-stage. The company had a profound effect on changing the attitudes towards homosexuals in theatre and in society at large. The company demonstrated the role that art has to play as the voice of dissent, and their importance within the cultural ethics of our society remain apparent to this day.

‘They did a couple of Philip’s plays, and then the management changed and Lois became a Managing Director and then they went into the whole Queer theatre territory, which I knew nothing. That’s where they went. And it just went off somewhere else. I didn’t really follow that too much. I never really got the whole Queer theatre thing. I felt they lost their audience. It was a touring company, it had a broad national audience. I wondered whether the particular route of Queer theatre would limit their audience. I felt they possibly lost that broad base, national audience that we’d built up with those rather more conventional plays if you like.’ Noel Greig, 2008

‘The Old Guard went. Noel went and then the rest of us stood down. And then what happened was two Artistic Directors were appointed in the 90s to run the company. Suddenly there was a paid administrator and it had offices and it sort of felt like the company ran out of steam when it had that. There was that continuing tension between the men’s work and the women’s work. I think James and Lois got on well but as an outsider looking at the work you could see that there was two very different styles. It was at the time at Queer politics and it felt like other people were doing more relevant work that was moving gay theatre forward. … DV8, that’s the one that immediately comes to mind. So Lloyd [Newson] was moving gay issues into physical theatre in a really exciting way, and then there was Jonathan Harvey. There was prominent work going on, which was the thing what Gay Sweatshop had been battling for.’ Phillip Osment, 2013

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