When a gay couple moved into a respectable neighbourhood, an anxious homeowner wrote to a newspaper asking how the quality of a ‘once respected neighbourhood’ could be improved. The response from the agony aunt was, quite simply, “You could move”. Through this crisp and unambiguous dismissal, Aunt Abby dished out a clever twist that turned the bitterness back on its perpetrator. Her quick-witted comment underlined the view that prejudice will always be more poisonous to an area than love, regardless of sexuality, and this notion is central to the devised, episodic piece that takes Abby’s biting statement as its title.
Unlike sage old Abby, playwright Jodi Gray never tells us how to respond. Instead, her piece rapidly alters both subject matter and style to present a syndicated collage of modern gay experience. In a period of just 90 minutes, Gray’s script breezes through online chat rooms, supermarkets, sperm donation clinics and kitchens. In bedrooms, she introduces us to new lovers as they belatedly learn each other’s names, and then to more committed partners united in a battle against AIDs. Aided by the devised interpretations of Outbox LGB Theatre’s cast of ten, Gray weaves together narratives that are at once personal, and reflective of the greatest issues particular to gay and bisexual people in Britain today.
Crucially, though, You Could Move is progressive because it recognises categorisation is not the sole concern of LGB individuals. Sexuality itself is of little consequence here; the fact that some people are gay can be taken or left, but the fact that gay people have stories to share has colossal importance. One early episode is particularly telling, setting the scene for an evening of discussion that goes far beyond ticking a box. At a kitchen table, we meet a brother and sister at the point of a very laboured confession. While the brother meanders his way into his chosen topic, his sibling, with music blaring from headphones around her neck, seems eager to get on with her day. Finally, as the admission finally drops, the sister is unfazed. In the world outside of the theatre, it may be obvious that there’s more to gay identity than being able to boldly identify as gay, but there’s something rare and refreshing about Outbox LGB’s willingness to carve out and acknowledge this distinction on stage.
Quick witted and even quicker-paced, this production relates queer stories through monologue, movement and dialogue. In the monologues, stories taken from a diverse set of contributors form a compelling gay aesthetic, where homosexuality is championed as the reason to get out of the village and into the best parties. But if these monologues are about reflection, then the dialogues illuminate the moments that informed such worldly hindsight, depicting day-to-day developments of views and relationships. These dual interactions are tinged with a certain self-consciousness as characters struggle with the definitions that bind them. For instance, when conversations evolve from buying hummus to starting a family, a man asks, “are we actually having this conversation in Waitrose?” Supplementing this alternating script, sensual and dialogue-free scenes show that this company can truly move. Unfortunately, the quality of these more inventive scenes also fluctuates, and the moments that use seductive dance to depict developing relationships are far more accomplished than the episode involving Islamic worship, where the praying man and his admirer can’t quite pull off the beauty and emotive complexity that is promised.
While it is clearly well-researched and impeccably grounded, there is nothing academic about this study into contemporary queer issues. These stories are linked by a theme of homosexuality, but it seems more logical to see the episodes as united through a sharply casual style, as the personalities within Outbox LGB Theatre cast a fluidity upon their merged narrative. Each short may come with its own mode of expression, but as actors pause before snappy scene transitions, as if mulling over the accounts they have been trusted with, they bring a light and charmingly reflective tone upon the work. Yet in refusing to settle as it hurtles through carefully curated accounts from across the generations, You Could Move illustrates just how much things have changed and – more importantly – reminds of our need to keep on moving.