Paul Bradshaw and I have been friends for years, and collaborating with him again is an honor. His stories as a queer, working-class Londoner are both poignant and pivotal. tell me frankly feels especially special to me because of how it explores attraction, desire, connection, and the spectrum of homosexuality.
The central character of the play, Lui, is charismatic, charming, confident and not afraid to tell the truth. Where is he? During his teenage years and into adulthood, he had a series of affairs with guys, all with one thing in common: they’re straight. Well… they are “straight”. He’s had a plethora of formative sexual experiences entirely with straight men.
The story that unfolds is a weave of witty stories that tell us about the kind of men he’s attracted to and, therefore, the kind of relationships he ends up having. And, while the men in her life may be sexy, cheeky, and adorable, they’re not exactly boyfriend material.
The straight/bi-curious characters of tell me frankly often act out of consciously repressed sexual desires or unconsciously repressed sexual urges – they still accept the strange elements of their sexuality. So when these men come face to face with him, what follows is a collection of awkward, tender, seductive, and sometimes infuriating encounters.
At the heart of each of these encounters is an unmistakable sense of a question mark hanging in the air. Because we are rooted for Him, we don’t like the question mark to be there, but we like the experience of it. The uncertainty, the unknown, the possibility… Just like Him, we become open, curious and excited by every potential man.
But at the same time, we have Dani’s voice in our head – “That’s not it, boo” – and she’s not just the voice of her lovingly brutal best friend, her voice is also the voice of the audience. . She’s the part of us that knows we shouldn’t stick around for that extra drink or shouldn’t open the dating app at 1am (we’ve all been there) or should avoid anyone who “don’t know what she wants right now.”
As a filmmaker and as someone who identifies as fluid (meaning I have an attraction to all sexes and genders and experience my gender as fluid), I am drawn by these question marks. I feel like we’ve all been Him, and we’ve all been Ryan, Lee, Matt…the list goes on. I’m fascinated by the concept of being honest, with ourselves and with others, about what we desire intimately and sexually.
I’m intrigued by the power dynamics that emerge in the room because of who instigates what and when. Who sets a limit and when? We can lead ourselves to believe that the magic of romance is a mystery. And why would we want to ruin magic? Especially if it means dealing with rejection, or having to accept and own parts of ourselves that we are not completely comfortable with.
After all, it’s not just straight people hiding things in this room. He too has secrets. And, while he’s perfectly happy to tell a hilarious anecdote about Chef Boy’s tongue piercing or a guy getting horny during Monopoly, there are times he won’t share. Why? Dating is risky, vulnerable and intoxicating at the best of times, let alone when we struggle with the idea of who we want or need. Or who we want to be loved by.
tell me frankly is a glorious, witty and provocative piece about what it means to explore and embrace our sexuality.
tell me straight is at the Chiswick Playhouse from February 15-26 – book your tickets here