Outings seems to fall headlong into the sanctimonious trap made for plays with a strong moral message. The latest offering from West End vets Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Hescott features a cast of well-known comedians performing twenty true-life, “coming out” stories… and goes no further.
Like a Christmas panto or the first round of the World Cup, its audience already knows who they support. We shake our heads self-righteously at the tale of a mother who refuses to accept her son’s sexuality, because we all know how wrong she is – and that’s the problem: we already know.
It’s telling that so many of Outings’ anecdotes end with “…but it actually wasn’t a problem at all. My mother/dad/nan accepted me.” Or that so many stories take place a number of decades ago. The subject isn’t irrelevant – gay rights, like any human rights issue, will always merit discussion. But this play doesn’t discuss so much as recite words that we have all heard many times over.
The script-in-hand, barebones staging may be symptomatic of verbatim theatre, but it also becomes a visual metaphor – that this play is not doing anything new or provocative with its content. Which is frustrating, because there are plenty of topics it raises in such a frank and honest way, that if explored, could transform our national discussions on human sexuality.
In fact, the most exciting moments of the piece occur when it dares to articulate the grey areas: whether “coming out” should be treated as an event, or the intricacies of being both gay and transgender. There’s also a flash-in-the-pan reference to a generation divide, that younger gay people have rejected their antecedents, in the same way that some young women seem to be distancing themselves from older feminists , or many children of immigrants no longer identify with their forefathers.
Perhaps this phenomenon occurs in part, because the latter refuses to engage in new debates, preferring to tread old ground rather than gear up for battle at today’s picket lines?
There will always be need for a play such as Outings – in community halls, at secondary schools, in places where society must remind itself that homosexuality is about as abnormal as having blue eyes. But in a setting such as the fringe, let’s be honest: you’re preaching to the choir. And a very vocal, colourful choir at that.