Review: He Never Married

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The title drawn from the euphemistic phrase used in the obituaries of gay bachelors, He Never Married provides an intimate and provoking account of the recent history of the LGBT+ community’s social and legal acceptance, its effects on individuals and the haunting parallels of this history to the present day. Evoking a sense of the fragility of that which has been achieved, the play serves as a timely reminder of the progress still required to achieve true equality for the LGBT+ community.

Deals with the complexities of topical yet challenging issues

Written and directed by Kane Taylor as part of Durham Drama Festival, the play centres on Sam (Mark Woods) who, following the death of a distant uncle, uncovers a series of letters which recount a secret love affair over a lifetime. Scattered through the course of the play, these startling letters present a mysterious portrait of a relationship shrouded in social taboo and legal uncertainty; it is an account which is resonant with that of Sam who is struggling to navigate his own sexuality and relationships with boyfriend Jordan and best friend Riley (played by and Lucy Little respectively). Taylor creates a simple yet well-constructed narrative which deals with the complexities of topical yet challenging issues, such as the treatment of the LGBT+ community. This is reflected by the staging of the play: the stage is encircled by graphic posters displaying provoking statistics, such as 71.4% of the LGBT+ community experience a major depressive disorder. This cleverly resonates with the narrative of the play and encourages the audience to engage more deeply with the subject matter.

Woods skilfully portrays Sam’s haunted and tormented response to his uncle’s letters, bringing a physicality to the role which convincingly embodies Sam’s unsettled mind- particularly impressive is Woods’ striking movement in the scene where Sam is beaten up, it is an uncomfortably vivid depiction which demonstrates Wood’s natural ability as an actor. and Lucy Little also give strong performances, both showing natural chemistry with Woods. The small cast did well to carry the narrative which was (arguably) overwhelmingly melancholy; although punctured some more light-hearted elements, such as Sam and Jordan’s discussion of a future family, the narrative was, in general, agonisingly bleak. While this naturally reflects the severity of the subject matter, the play would perhaps have benefitted from some more of these lighter touches.

Haunting parallels between the past and present

Taylor’s use of sound and video was a triumph; dialogue is interspersed with old footage which is cleverly edited to illustrate the historical context in which the letters are written. The recordings provide a necessary backdrop of the social and political complexities within the history of LGBT+ acceptance and complement the play’s storyline while creating a powerful and resonating atmosphere. The use of modern political sound clips was particularly provoking; used to emphasise the haunting parallels between the past and present, they reflect the central message of the play, which assesses the current situation for the LGBT+ community, as well as the steps necessary to achieve genuine equality. 

Tickets are still available for the performance this afternoon (2pm on Saturday the 8th in the The Mark Hillery Arts Centre).

Image: Rosie Dart

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