Rob Ward’s Gypsy Queen begins with the show’s only two actors monologuing under separate spotlights as they prepare us for this LGBTQ boxing love story. As the two strike out, they seem to take on the cadence of spoken word poetry rather than conversation. It’s a choice that adds a dreamy, introspective air to the beginning of the play, but causes a bit of confusion as the show transitions into a more traditional style, and it’s not quite clear where the story has landed when they do so. In fact, transitions from scene to scene seem to be this performance’s Achille’s heel, but once the two actors have shaken off their poetry voices, their talent and obvious chemistry shine as they dive into some well written dialogue.
In fact, Ward- both the writer of the show and one of its actors – and Ryan Clayton admirably shift from persona to persona as the two portray numerous characters each usually switching to a different one with each scene change. Clayton and Ward manage to present unique people easily and slip into the appropriate relationships without trouble, though it does take a few scenes to realise what they’re doing if you’re not already expecting it. However, as I mentioned before, the transitions and scene changes themselves manage to take so much away from the performance. Tepid music selections played too quietly and a lighting change did little to mask the drastic drop in energy as Ward and Clayton slinked to the back of the stage for costume changes that only took moments but still seemed to painfully drag. By the time they were back centre stage, the momentum and energy the actors and writing had built up before were lost, and the two had to start from scratch to regain that energy and audience attention. With so many of these awkward scene changes, the overall performance seemed to drag what should have been a fast-paced show.
Barring its pacing issues though, Gypsy Queen tells an important story about externalised and internalised homophobia and overcoming both. It has the charming ability to feel like a rom-com at some moments and a sports film at others. George’s (Ward) and Dane’s (Clayton) relationship- the focal point of the play -feels real, sweet, and despite a questionable hand job at the beginning that warranted a lecture on affirmative consent, it was easy to feel invested in these two and their relationship. Though it definitely needs more polish and probably at least two more actors, Gypsy Queen is a show with a lot of heart that highlights modern day homophobia and has a lot of potential to be something greater.
Gypsy Queen is playing The Arts Theatre West End until 15 October. For more information and tickets, see the Arts Theatre website.