Outings really shouldn’t have to exist. When the first openly gay ex-Premiership footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger came out he said “Hopefully if some players follow, one day it will become normal and not big news anymore.” Devoting an entire hour to coming out stories suggests that it still is big news, that saying “I’m gay” is still not quite ok. But this says a lot more about our society than about the play itself: Outings is a bittersweet celebration of being gay and being happy with who you are and the body you’re in.
Outings’ creators Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Hescott have used true-life coming out stories to make the show, from those submitted at OutingsTheShow.com and RUComingOut.com to interviews, archives and celebrity statements. The voice of Tom Daley plays out falteringly as we listen to his coming out video. Then Outings gets down to business: not all coming out stories get 11 million views on YouTube and this is the chance for the rest of the LGBT community to be heard.
Four actors plus a daily special guest perch on clear Perspex stools like a sombre boy band. They sit in front of a rainbow wall of photos, printed articles and handwritten notes and until they open their mouths it all looks a bit clichéd. Comedians Rob Deering, Andrew Doyle, Zoe Lyons and Camille Ucan hold thick scripts in hand (printed on a rainbow of paper, of course) and bring the real people behind these real stories to life.
Some of the ‘outings’ featured are easy tales of nerves and acceptance but most of them are very difficult. There’s a woman who first comes out as a lesbian but must then pluck up the courage to out herself again, this time telling everyone she knows that she’s trans and wants to identify as a gay man. We later meet a man from the dark days when homosexuality was a crime. His heartbreaking story tells of an experimental ‘treatment’ which forced him to look at pornography while receiving injections that caused him to vomit over and over again. He was then left in the room full of gay porn and his own puke for hours. Thankfully he walked out before they could attach the electrodes to his penis but was too horrified to ever confess what he’d been through. In its most important moments Outings is painful to watch.
The cast treat each story with the dignity and respect it deserves, throwing in some much appreciated touches of humour here and there when Outings threatens to become a pity party. The result is a touching living archive of gay experience, and it’s still growing as more submissions are made. The show’s “it gets better” message of strength and courage is a must-see. One day we won’t need Outings but right now it’s a vital piece of theatre.
Outings is at Gilded Balloon (Venue 14) until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.