Back on the program for this theatre season is the 2019 hit Queers, a series of monologues covering a hundred years of the United Kingdom’s queer history.
Everyman Theatre (Holding the Man, Beautiful Thing) directors Steph Roberts and Jarrad West are bringing the pre-COVID performance to the heritage-listed Old Causeway Hall for two weeks (14 to 24 February).
The two creatives have been working together for 16 years since their first meeting on an Angels of America production, co-directed by Liz Bradley, a legend of the Canberra theatre scene.
The genesis of this show didn’t take place until 2018 when their lead actor got his Bali holiday dates mixed up with their plan to show Death of a Salesman halfway through the coming season.
“So we went down the coast and took all our scripts with us, including this book called Queers, which I had just gotten from the National Theatre Library in London,” says Jarrad.
“It counts 100 years of UK queer history from the World War I era of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, right through to their legalisation of gay marriage in 2011.”
The series of monologues was commissioned by the BBC in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the Wolfenden report, which marked the beginning of legalising homosexuality in the UK. They were curated by Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Doctor Who) and staged at the Old Vic for two weeks before being screened on television.
After reading the script book, Jarrad suggested a production set within a pub for a more immersive experience. Steph says they all agreed to it and there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the audience, cast and crew at the time.
“People still come up to us and reminisce about the production, so it clearly left an impression,” says Steph.
“There was something quite magical about the production and we decided immediately that it was something we could do again.”
Following the pandemic, Steph and Jarrad joined ACTHUB in 2021, which manages the Old Causeway Hall. Canberra’s oldest entertainment venue is now being transformed into ‘The Prince’s Arms’ pub for the new cast – bar one member – to utilise what Jarrad describes as a “beautiful space”.
“It’s not just sitting to watch monologue after monologue of people talking at you,” says Jarrad.
“It happens all around the audience, and we break it up so you can digest each monologue as you’re sitting in this pub.
“There’ll be a song from someone and then we’ll move forward a decade or so into the next monologue until the whole thing changes again.”
Steph says they’ve also been fortunate to have their composer Alexander Unikowski make an “incredibly beautiful piece of music” for the production’s original theme.
The seven performers will each share a personal story that celebrates the evolving social attitudes and political milestones of the UK’s queer history, which Jarrad believes has many similarities with Australia’s own.
“The UK had section 28, Margaret Thatcher and their own version of the ‘Don’t say gay’ bill 40 years before Florida did. There are definitely parallels between the Australian and UK experience.
“We were just behind the eight ball at some times, but we did have a better response to the AIDS crisis than most countries in the world.”
For those interested in the evening of “music, a lovely story and beer on tap” at the quintessential British Ale house within the Old Causeway Hall, you can find tickets on ACTHUB.