How much is gold really worth? In this story of a young man preparing for an Olympic victory, national pride is pitched against personal anxieties as a teen struggles to balance the testosterone-soaked world of boxing with his identity as a gay man.
Lewis has just turned 18 and, to celebrate, his mum has arranged a dinner party. Of course, this being theatre, “dinner party” is code for social awkwardness, faux pas and full-blown disagreements; a setting that allows for an analysis of major social patterns on an intimate level. Proud follows the menu in style, serving up all the veiled fights and bitter undercurrents that we expect as soon as we see a kitchen table on a stage.
After a string of light-hearted battles over who is responsible for the ironing, and a handful of fights regarding what makes an appropriate fashion choice, the real antagonist enters the stage. Sleazy Mac is dating Lewis’ mum. His is an influence that polarises the genders, forcing mum to dress in a gold dress and high shoes and — as Lewis’ gym coach — urging the young man to adopt laddish mannerisms. Significantly, the brashly opinionated and homophobic Mac doesn’t know that his student is gay, an error that Lewis seems in no hurry to correct.
Charlie Carter is excellent as the homophobic boxing coach who struggles to leave the macho talk of the gym behind. As he dishes up homophobia before the aperitif, his leery sentences are punctuated by licks of his lips, an effective and subtle tick that reinforces his character’s arrogance. Mac stands for more than just one idiot; this man comes from a place where male affection and support can only be shown through a punch and an assertive comment directed at the whole room. He represents a larger picture: the macho world forcing the gay teenager to live a double life.
That said, it’s a real shame that the production has to rely on such heterosexual clichés to counter the prejudices suffered by the gay community. Indeed, there is something hypocritical in the company’s decision to fight stereotyping with stereotypes. It’s also very disappointing to see that, in the character Ally, John Stanley has scripted yet another sarcastic and marginalised lesbian who, when the play finishes, is still waiting for her happy ending.
Performed to a predominantly gay audience, this production doesn’t waste time trying to be politically correct and elephants are kept firmly out of the room by mum Rachel (Virginia Byron), who swiftly swings from naive and unwittingly suggestive to ultra-camp. The play discusses issues relating to gay culture — from Lady Gaga to the Soho nail bomber — but its most interesting moment occurs when Lewis expresses his reluctance to subscribe to a world of rainbows and speeches, claiming that “all that out and proud stuff isn’t me”. With all its flaws, this production may be more deserving of a bronze than of a gold, but as the lead character finally accepts a sexuality without a stereotype, we know we’re onto a winner.
Proud is performing at the Lost Theatre until 11th August. For more information and tickets, see the Lost Theatre website.