Review: What’s Wrong With Angry?
A powerful gay drama set in 1992
In ‘What’s Wrong with Angry?’ tells the story of Steven Carter (Jamie Sayers), a 16-year-old desire-filled gay teenager. It’s 1992, 4 years after Thatcher’s government imposed ‘Section 28’, prohibiting schools and local authorities from depicting homosexual relationships as an acceptable way of living. (It wasn’t repealed fully until 2003…)
This essentially means Steven has no one to talk to apart from his best friend Linda (Jemma Fendley), and must resort to furtive, meaningless sex with older men in public loos. He’s bullied terribly, but his teacher Hutton (Eduardo Strike) is powerless to intervene for fear of his actions being seen to give a positive impression of homosexuality, and thereby go against the law of Section 28. In fact, the Headmaster Mr Carter (Ted Mackey) even threatens to fire Hutton (Strike) if he continues to do so.
Watching this play, one is filled with intense juxtaposition of feeling. On the one hand, Fendley’s character, Linda, sums up a lot of the audience’s feeling when she questions why Steven (Sayers) has shallow, meaningless sex in public toilets with strangers – ‘it’s so…yuck.’ But then he responds, ‘There’s nowhere else,’ and you can't help but feel incredibly sorry for him.
Studying at the uber-liberal Cambridge University in 2017, it’s somewhat unnerving being transported back to a world (only 25 or so years ago…) where gay men are called ‘dodgy’, ‘misguided’ and ‘unnatural.’ In a cycle of detriment, the laws put in place against them forced them to conform to stereotypes that were then used to fuel homophobia against them: they can’t be open, are forced to live a secret life hidden away from society, and are therefore considered dirty and immoral. When they are open about their desires, they are told they’re ‘better off dead.’
The stage design’s simplicity (a bench that merged into a chair and some excellent hand-painted flats) helped to give a sense of context and location, but didn’t detract from the actors, who all rose to the challenge of performing a play with such heavy and intense themes. Jamie Sayers and Benedict Clarke both captured the respective euphoria and angst of their characters, whilst Strike’s soliloquies, whilst being in danger of being boring, were, under Sophie Leydon’s direction and Chris Lazenbatt’s lighting design, captivating and poignant.
At just over 2 hours, the play was rather long for a Corpus Show: there were some scenes and sub plots that could have been shortened or cut, but all-in-all the pace was fast and interest remained throughout.
I always feel that the purpose of theatre shouldn’t be just to entertain. You should leave at the end more informed and enlightened, and want to question, or at least feel the need to react in some way, to what you have just seen. ‘What’s Wrong With Angry’ manages to do all that to a high standard: as the characters take their bows to the background of Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love’, we end up questioning just that – what is love? – and the play's exploration of the negative consequences of love being forbidden reiterate how it should never be denied to anyone.