The struggles and challenges faced by young gay people are by no means new themes for contemporary playwrights. For the last few decades, we’ve seen the mistreatment, prejudice and rejection that is all too real and familiar for many members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, the tendency has often been to focus on young gay men in general without much variety in terms of family or social background. Alexis Gregory’s newest work SAFE brings together four very different real life stories and presents them as interwoven monologues. With the help of The Albert Kennedy Trust, it explores the terrifying fact that 25% of all young homeless people in urban areas identify as LGBT. The verbatim speeches offer us a rather bleak insight into this cross section of the characters’ lives and the intimate, conversational setting allows us to connect wholeheartedly with their journeys.
We are introduced to four different people. Jack is a transgender gay man who explains to us the challenges he faced both at home and in the workplace and Alicia is a gay woman whose strained relationship with her parents led her to leave home and develop an alcohol addiction. Tammi details how she grew up thinking she was a gay man before moving to a new city and very recently identifying as trans and Samuel describes how his Nigerian family forbade him from socialising with British children for fear of being corrupted by their Western values. As each of these stories progresses we see the four people battle against their families’ scorn and disdain and come to a place of self acceptance and growth.
Perhaps the most effective but painful aspect of SAFE is that it is borne from real experiences. The stories that we hear have not been concocted by a playwright wishing to simply shock his audience into action but rather they form a documentary of the intolerance the LGBTQ+ community still faces in Britain. Robert Chevara’s appropriately simple direction places the character before us in a line across the stage which makes the audience feel as though they are interacting with people rather than watching a performance. The actors speak directly to the audience with beautifully understated appreciation for the story they have each been given. Gregory’s script is fantastically pieced together, featuring the four intersecting tales equally and never allowing the audience’s attention to drop as one tale cuts across another.
While each of the four actors does a truly admirable job of conveying their character’s stories, a particular mention must be made for Laura Jayne Ayres who, as Alicia, is an absolute delight to watch. She appears comfortable and authentic and the delivery of her speech is intelligent and convincingly natural. The highlight of the piece comes towards the end of the play as Kit Redstone, playing Tammi, delivers a poem by Yrsa Daley-Ward. Daley-Ward’s language is incredibly emotive and as Redstone talks of confidence, conflict and self worth, the atmosphere in the audience becomes heavy with pride and compassion.
SAFE is a fantastic piece of political theatre which challenges the notion of Britain as a progressive country. Each of the stories is enhanced by a brief moment at the end of the piece where the characters explain how they felt about being asked to share their experiences. The only downside to this play is that the vast majority of the audience is from the London LGBTQ+ community and already sympathises wholeheartedly. This show really deserves a transfer or tour in order to reach a much wider audience!
Reviewed by Alex Foott
SAFE plays at the London Theatre Workshop until 22 October 2016