Guest Blog: Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher On COMING CLEAN
I wanted to direct Coming Clean for the King's Head Theatre because I think it's a beautiful piece of work by a wonderful playwright. I'm astonished that it's not had a major London revival in the 35 years since the original production at the Bush Theatre and wanted, in the 50th anniversary month of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, to introduce it to a whole new generation.
The journey that I've been on with the cast and creative team since we began rehearsals has been fascinating and insightful, and taught me much about how the lives of gay men have changed over the past 50 years.
Coming Clean is set in the Kentish Town flat of Greg and Tony in 1982. They're in a long-term, open relationship, and the play explores what happens when one partner starts to crave monogamy.
When it was originally produced, it was arguably the first gay kitchen sink drama and it's deeply concerned with the texture of the lead characters' lives. Where they like to go out, who their friends are and their career aspirations are all present in the narrative. It quickly became clear that we needed to learn as much as possible about the world of the play.
One of the most useful things we've done has been to work with a Production Associate. David Parker is a gay man of 70, and has lived a fascinating life. In 1982, he would have been the same age as Greg and Tony are in the play - old enough to remember decriminalisation, young enough to have had a range of experiences of the cultural shift that had taken place in the 15 years since. He was kind enough to join us one afternoon and share the story of his extraordinary life with the cast.
David spoke eloquently about the culture of fear and prohibition that accompanied any homosexual activity in the 1960s. The prospect of a police raids and of being arrested hung heavy in the air, and Polari, a form of cant slang, was used by gay men to avoid detection.
It took time for things to change once decriminalisation came into effect in 1967, and the first gay bars were exclusive, private members' clubs. David said that although the atmosphere was often fraught and dangerous, it was also exciting and charged.
We honed in on 1982, which was a particularly interesting time in gay history. Fifteen years on from the decriminalisation of homosexuality but before the rise of the AIDS crisis in which being gay had become slightly more normalised, in which the prospect of writing a gay domestic drama about the ups and downs of a specific relationship was an exciting and relatively untapped prospect.
There were, of course, still challenges for gay men; there's a moment of homophobic violence in the play, and the characters decide not to go to the police because they expect to be ignored or even ridiculed.
Despite everything that's changed between 1982 and the present day, Coming Clean remains remarkably relevant. It's a rich, emotional, funny drama with universal themes of love and fidelity, and whilst it was groundbreaking to explore this on stage within the context of a gay relationship 35 years ago, it's not lost any of its potency today.
By immersing ourselves in the world of the past, we might just learn something about our lives in the present and our hopes for the future.
Photo credit: Paul Nicholas Dyke