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Review: OUTLAWS TO IN-LAWS, King's Head Theatre

An evening dedicated to the highs and lows of gay history, Outlaws to In-Laws takes a look at how men have interacted with one another over the past seven decades. Spanning from the Fifties to the present day, these seven short plays by seven different writers explore the choices that were made during times of prejudice and intolerance.

Director Mary Franklin draws high-standard performances, with each cast member creating clear distinctions between each character. Within minutes an actor will effectively transform from playing a physically abusive homophobe to a shy, closeted young male, and it is impressive to see so many bold choices.

Representing seven stories and 20 characters, with six actors on one stage, is a definite challenge, but the cast work well together to ensure it never feels confusing. The only drawback to some of the softer speech as a character choice is that the fan in the King's Head is so loud that dialogue can become inaudible.

Some of the most exciting drama of the evening comes in the second play, Mister Tuesday written by Jonathan Harvey. This two hander starring Elliot Balchin and Jack Bence is a voyeuristic look into the life of a closeted husband and father of two, soon to be three, who seeks out pleasure in public bathrooms.

Balchin and Bence's relationship is unhealthy to say the least, and as the pair's goading of one another gets increasingly heightened, their secret affair is threatened by exposure. Both actors effectively demonstrate the seriousness of their situation, and work together to create an atmosphere of the utmost intensity.

It is a hard task to design a stage that can effectively make seven different time periods believable, but PJ McEvoy does well to do just that. As each new scene emerges, so do new parts of the set that have been cleverly hidden away. However, Mcevoy's design can be restrictive, with doors are placed in a position where they hinder audience's sightlines for the majority of the evening.

This series of short plays holds nothing back, and attempts to tackle every possible issue that gay men could have faced. Violence, drug use, male escorting, same-sex marriage, and sleaze - nothing is off-limits. It presents a problem, as the audience is given a broad and basic overview of issues, lacking any deeper insight.

This is the disadvantage of having so many plays crammed into one evening. They're all very good, but we want to know more. Whilst it is exciting to leave viewers inquisitive, it is frustrating at the same time. There is a somewhat chronological parallel between the plays, but even with that it still feels like there is something missing.

Nevertheless, it's a powerful, important look at queer history, and this evening is a political statement. It's a reminder of how far gay men have come in their battle for equality, but also places a clear emphasis on all the work that's still to be done.

Despite the evening being so rooted in history, it never feels overwhelming, and if audiences do not want to engage in the politics, then they can simply sit back and enjoy the campiness, light-hearted humour and the spectacle. Looking around the room you see a representation of many queer identities, and it's great that this event provides something for everybody to take away from it.

Outlaws to In-Laws at The King's Head Theatre until 23 September

Photo Credit: Paul Dyke

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