‘He Never Married’ by Kane Taylor is a hard-hitting but incredibly thought provoking and important play that everyone should try and find time to see this weekend. Taylor’s play follows the history of legislation regarding LGBTQ+ rights UK from the 1970s to the present day in the form of a series of letters exchanged between James and his lover David. Main character Sam finds these letters upon his uncle James’ passing, and his reading of these letters forms the main body of the show, charting his own journey of coming out. Mostly beautifully written, though there were occasional clichéd moments, this format of telling a story through reading letters is clever, as it allows the play to span a large period of history in a non-linear way. It also made the legislation discussed immensely personal by showing the way it essentially dictated these characters’ lives.
A sense of authenticity is created through the signs which scatter the theatre floor throughout the performance, bearing statistics such as ‘On average students hear anti-gay slurs every 14 minutes’, which make the play personal to its primarily student audience. This is also accomplished through the use of audio and video clippings from news reports through the different periods, in which the label ‘homosexual’ stands out as an aggressive label of difference used to consistently attack a community. These clips reminded me just how shockingly new legislative developments around LGBT rights are, such as gay marriage not being legalised in the UK until 2014. While very important to the story, I felt these clips feature too heavily in the first half of the show, as I wanted to see more of the characters and the development of their relationships.
The acting in this play is naturalistic and moving; each of the three actors convey their roles convincingly and create believable relationships. Mark Woods delivers a standout performance as Sam, delivering the letters with an authenticity and passion which brings the characters within them whom we never meet to life. Oscar Nicholson plays Sam’s boyfriend Jordan, bringing a grounding supportive presence to the role. The relationship between the two characters is well built, and there are some genuinely beautiful moments such as when they half-jokingly discuss their marriage, casually reclaiming a historically heteronormative life event. The two characters also represent different ways of handling a history of oppression; while Jordan to leave the injustices of the past to the past, Sam becomes increasingly affected and angered by the continuities he sees between his uncle’s letters and his reality. It is the evidence of this systematic persecution that makes Riley, played by Lucy Little, such an insidious and complex character. With her advice to Sam that he just needs to ‘buck up and stop feeling sorry for himself’, she encapsulates the unease and lack of sympathy which society harbours against the gay community, with the suggestion that they should somehow feel grateful for the freedoms they have been given. Watching, I felt like we all knew or had encountered a Riley who simply doesn’t understand the complexity or sensitivity of this issue.
The play certainly does not shy away from the harsh reality of persecution of the LGBT community. It is hinted that both Jordan and James die in some kind of homophobic hate crime; though never explicitly stated, both deaths emphasise that these kind of things do still happen. The scene where Sam is beaten up is also simplistically portrayed without the need for any perpetrators, as Woods reactions create a believable and disturbing affect, leaving him twitching alone in a spotlight on the floor. I wasn’t sure of exactly how all the events fitted together in the narrative, but the emotion was made clear. However, the play mingles this pain and anger with a sense of hope for the future. In his final speech, Sam asserts his rights to continue to want more, and to fight for true equality and normalisation. This play isn’t perfect; the writing could be improved, some of the scene transitions feel awkward and more could have been done with the voiceovers. However, it accomplishes what it sets out to do with a simplicity and authenticity that makes it truly uplifting.