Outlaws To In-Laws – The King’s Head Theatre’s latest show is ambitious, charming and sensitive.

Photo by Paul Dyke

Located in the beautiful and bougie King’s Head Pub in Angel, the King’s Head Theatre has become known in the past couple of years for its wonderfully varied range of queer-focused theatre.

This month, they welcome Outlaws To In-laws, a series of seven short plays, each focusing on a different decade through the gaze of gay men, from the 1950s until now. Each was penned by a different leading gay writer, among them Jonathan Harvey, the brains behind Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and Beautiful Thing.

Watching seven short plays is a refreshing alternative to one long one. Even the best theatre has a tendency to drag a little, and a change in set and a rotation in actors keeps things moving, and kept my spoiled millennial attention span satiated.

As a gay historical theatre piece set over several decades, Outlaws To In-Laws obviously touches on most issues that have affected our community, and deals with them sensitively and appropriately. Apart from chemsex which, refreshingly, there was no mention of. I’m not saying it’s not an important issue, but there have been so many gay plays about it recently that straight audiences must be starting to wonder if we’re capable of writing about anything else.

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The first play, Happy & Glorious by Philip Meeks, is a camp and slightly cheesy look at the lives of gay and queer men in the 1950s. Set on the day of the Queen’s coronation, there’s lots of salaciousness and sniping, including a great line from Paul Carroll in the role of the resident drag queen at the party; “Oh no dear, he’s NAFF – not available for fucking!”

It’s followed up by Jonathan Harvey’s 1965-set Mister Tuesday, about a closeted policeman with a wife and kids, who’s having an affair with a man he met in some public toilets. Uncharacteristically for Harvey, it’s actually quite bleak, dealing with dark and unresolved themes of desperation and furtive love.

The two plays that resonated most with me were Princess Die, set in the 90s, and Brothas, set in the 00’s. Which is unsurprising, because the 90s and 00s were when I was, shall we say, “coming-of-age” (drinking WKD and listening to Girls Aloud). That’s something nice about a theatre amalgamation that’s set across decades – with each piece, different members of the audience will empathise.

Princess Die by Matt Harris is a kaleidoscopically colourful, high-octane production, using clever devices (not to mention some absolute tunes) to tell the story of a wild night! Alex Marlow is wonderfully trembly and urgent as paranoid, post-clubbing drag queen Shane, who falls over and then falls in love with a mannequin. We’ve all been there babe.

It’s followed by the instantly appealing Brothas, set in 2004. Any sketch that includes Missy Elliott and live on-stage joint smoking is a-ok with me! It focuses on Dwayne and Femi, two guys drinking and smoking and surfing the web for dick. Again, we’ve all been there. There were some wonderfully nostalgic shout-outs to the early noughties – when one of the boys produced a flip-phone, a cheer went up from the audience. In fact, it’s perhaps the most joyous of all the plays, with actors Michael Duke and Myles Devonte giving relentlessly upbeat and enthusiastic performances.

In fact, that’s the highlight of Outlaws To In-Laws. The actors all give more than respectable performances, and adapt convincingly to switching roles between plays. They’re also brilliantly directed by Mary Franklin, throwing each other and themselves around the stage with confidence.

The final play by Josh Val Martin is set in the present day, in the lead-up to a gay wedding. It’s fairly formulaic pre-wedding romcom stuff. Someone gets cold feet, there’s a well-meaning but doddering parent, one of the grooms is hungover, etc. etc. But in the end it sticks two fingers up at heteronormativity with, literally, a nice big whiff of poppers.

Outlaws To In-Laws is great! It’s by turns fun and forlorn, mad and meaningful. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster actually, and that’s what modern theatre should be all about.

RATING: ****

 Outlaws To In-Laws is at The Kings Head Theatre until 23rd September. For more info, head to kingsheadtheatre.com

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