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Guest Blog: Director Imogen Frances On TELL ME STRAIGHT

Paul Bradshaw's play runs at Chiswick Playhouse 15-26 February

Guest Blog: Director Imogen Frances On TELL ME STRAIGHT

Paul Bradshaw and I have been friends for years, and to collaborate with him again is an honour. His stories as a working-class, queer Londoner are both poignant and essential. tell me straight feels particularly special for me because of how it explores attraction, desire, connection, and the spectrum of queerness.

The central character of the play, Him, is charismatic, charming, confident, and unafraid to speak the truth. Or is he? Through his teens and into adulthood he's had a string of flings with guys, all with one thing in common: they're straight. Well... they're "straight". He's had a plethora of formative sexual experiences entirely with straight men.

The story that unfolds is a weaving of witty tales that teach us about the kind of men he is drawn to, and as a result the kind of relationships he ends up having. And, whilst the men in his life might be sexy, cheeky, and adorable - they're not exactly boyfriend material.

The straight/bi-curious characters in tell me straight are often acting out of consciously suppressed sexual desires, or subconsciously repressed sexual urges - they're still coming to terms with the queer elements of their sexuality. So, when these men come face-to-face with Him, what follows are a collection of awkward, tender, flirty, and at times, infuriating encounters.

At the heart of each of these encounters there's an undeniable sense of a question mark hanging in the air. Because we're rooting for Him, we don't love that the question mark is there, but we love the experience of it. The uncertainty, the unknown, the possibility... Just like Him, we become open, curious, and excited by each potential man.

But at the same time, we have Dani's voice in our head - "He's not it, boo" - and she's not just the voice of his lovingly brutal best mate, her voice is also the audience's voice. She's the part of us that knows we shouldn't stay for that extra drink or shouldn't open up the dating app at 1am (we've all been there) or should avoid anyone that's "not sure what they want right now".

As the director, and as someone who identifies as Fluid (meaning I have attraction to all sexes and genders and experience my gender as Fluid), I'm drawn to those question marks. I have a sense that all of us have been Him, and all of us have also been Ryan, Lee, Matt... the list goes on. I'm fascinated by the concept of being honest, with ourselves and others, about what it is we desire intimately and sexually.

I'm intrigued by the power dynamics that emerge in the play because of who instigates what and when. Who sets a boundary and when? We can lead ourselves to believe that the magic of romance is mystery. And why would we want to ruin the magic? Especially if it means that we have to face rejection, or have to accept and own parts of ourselves that we're not completely comfortable with.

After all, it's not just the straight guys who are hiding things in this play. Him has secrets too. And, whilst he might be perfectly happy to tell a hilarious anecdote about Chef Boy's tongue piercing or a guy that gets horny during Monopoly, there are moments he won't share. Why? Dating is risky, vulnerable, and intoxicating at the best of times, let alone when we're wrestling with the idea of who it is we want, or need. Or who we want to be loved by.

tell me straight is a glorious, witty, and provocative play about what it means to explore and embrace our sexuality.

tell me straight is at Chiswick Playhouse 15-26 February - book tickets here

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