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Barry McStay wrote and stars in Breeding which opens at the King’s Head theatre on 21 March and runs until 14 April. He has contributed a piece to QX about Breeding and how the play explores the experience of prospective queer parents while navigation the adoption process.  

“Does your husband watch pornography?”  

The image of a friend of mine and his husband being quizzed in separate rooms on their sex lives struck me as both dark and irresistibly hilarious. Indeed, their social worker interrogated them just like this during their process towards adoption. It’s a necessary part of safeguarding but also deeply exposing, not least for queer people for whom being interrogated about their sex lives can feel very loaded.  

This was also the first scene I wrote in the play that became Breeding.  

Breeding tells the story of Zeb and Eoin, a young gay couple who want to adopt, who meet their social worker Beth at a crucial moment in all of their lives. It’s a romantic comedy that goes to surprising, moving, dark, and uplifting places. It asks just how far you would go to find your perfect family. When we staged Breeding at the King’s Head Theatre in 2023, I wrote about wanting to take the (near) universal aspiration to parenthood – traditionally the preserve of heterosexual couples in art – and present it in a 21st-century queer setting.  

That first production seemed to resonate not just with queer people – especially queer parents, who were finally seeing their experience on a stage – but also with audience members of all orientations. Many remarked that they simply had no idea how difficult, exposing (and funny!) the non-traditional routes to parenthood can be. The play did well, and the question became, “What next?” 

The cast of Breeding. (Image supplied)

Well, what’s next is Breeding 2.0, which will shortly be opening in the King’s Head 2.0. The acclaimed pub theatre has moved to a custom-built space literally next door, doubling its capacity in one fell swoop. The KHT team were keen for Breeding to be part of their first season in the new venue. But rather than simply retreading old ground, this has instead presented opportunities to take the piece to a new level.  

This isn’t a revival – it’s a new production with a new co-producer in James Seabright and a new director in the brilliant and incisive Tom Ratcliffe, who originally programmed the play in 2023 as part of his Guest Artistic Director role at KHT. Their passion for this story has seen them prompt  and provoke me to find ways to deepen the play, finding new moments and new ways of presenting existing beats. We especially wanted to bring out a bit more of Beth’s storyline. Her alignment with Zeb and Eoin, and the life she is living offstage, are the heartbeat of this play. It’s a new, richer script, presenting three people who all want to make a home and find happiness against the odds.  

Breeding by Barry McStay at The King's Head Theatre in Islington, London.

With this enlarged space and a new design team, we talked about wanting to scale up the world of the play, to invite the audience into a room that felt transformed by the presence of the story. We wanted to maintain the intimacy of the old King’s Head while growing to take over this larger  venue. That design approaches the story from a new angle, seeing my play afresh, which is inspiring and exciting. Rehearsals are underway – with Dan returning as Zeb and Nemide May joining us as Beth – and so far, it’s been a joy to explore together and find there are always new choices. Art is rarely finished – there’s always more to discover. 

And that goes for audiences, too. There are more people out there who we want to reach with Breeding. Part of the reason for doing this again, but newer and bigger, is to find those people. We want audiences, both queer and not, to see stories of queer parenthood and non-traditional families. We want adoptive parents and those who have struggled to conceive to feel seen. We want queer families to feel recognised. We want people to understand just how brilliant and insane their parents were to even become parents! This isn’t a play just for some people – it’s a play for everyone. Having taken a long time to see it to fruition in the first place, in many ways, Breeding is my baby – and I’m excited to welcome you to its second birthday. 

Tickets: https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/breeding 

Breeding by Barry McStay is presented by Gabriella Sills Productions and Seabright Live in association with Mark Gatiss and runs at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, from 21st March to 14th April 2024. 

Breeding is the title of a gay play at The Kings Head Theatre in Islington, London.

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