TW: This production and review contains reference to Sexual Violence.
Following its initial run at the Finborough Theatre in 1990, Leather was championed as a pioneering British play, one of the first to deal with issues of male rape and domestic violence within the queer community. Though it faced much backlash for its controversial themes, Peter Scott-Presland’s play has proven to be an enduring work of art, undoubtably paving the way for the support for male victims of abuse, such as the charity Stay Brave which is supported by this production.
Deeply damaged as a survivor of rape, Gordon tentatively begins a relationship with Phil, an older man. Initially reluctant to be physical, Gordon eventually moves in with the protective Phil and the two become lovers. However, things begin to spiral when their friend Terry starts sniffing around, soon beginning an erotically sadomasochistic affair with Gordon, who clings to the violence like an addict – pushing Phil into a dark domain of his own.
Presented by Homo Promos, in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre, Leather probes the challenging dynamics of twentieth century gay life and the exploitation of sexuality. Performed as an online rehearsed reading, the creative team attempt to use this modern medium to revive the play’s uncomfortable intimacy, negating any costume or set and using only minimal props.
Whilst the format does stagnate some of the pace and flow of the play, as it is clearly written for the stage, it does make a remarkably smooth transition to the screen. Led superbly by Matthew Hodson and Denholm Spurr, the cast captivate with an intensity that draws us in through their eyes, their characters pain live before us.
Given the nature of the subject matter, it’s no surprise that there is little love to be seen in Scott-Presland’s text, regardless of the unsubstantiated, and somewhat premature, admissions of such by Phil. The characters presented are all in their own way broken and desperate, longing for solace or filled with a brooding lust. The circle of hurt carries from Gordon’s awful past down through the characters as they vie for control; Terry through his fetishes, Phil through organisation and money, and Gordon as he takes charge of his own life. It’s a truly horrifying portrayal to watch, constantly confusing us as the characters continue to take their pains rather than freeing themselves from damaging relationships, leaving us with eyes wide open, unable to look away.
Undoubtably not for the faint of heart, this revival of Leather examines incredibly current themes of consent and mental health. Though surely not as graphic in its present form as audience would have found it during its run in the 90s, it still bears a fearsome attitude for the dark underbelly of sexual desire.
Leather is now available to stream (for free) until 20 July via The Finborough Theatre’s Youtube Channel. For more information see the Finborough Theatre’s website.