Directed by Richard Wilson and starring Artistic Director Daniel Evans, the regional premiere of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s The Pride takes place in the small Studio at Sheffield. The play looks at love and relationships in both modern day-ish 2008 and in 1958, contrasting the two eras to see how attitudes to gay identity and also sexual freedom of all kinds have changed, and how the experiences of an older generation have influenced the decisions we make now. This is done with a trio of characters: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and a structure that constantly jumps back and forth between the two times and not always in chronological order, so that the two stories become one overarching narrative about the necessity of knowing and loving yourself before you can truly love others.
Dramatically speaking, the 1958 strand is the more intriguing: layers of Rattigan-esque repression make these scenes crackle with the unspoken. Sylvia and Philip are rather unhappily unmarried and when she introduces her colleague Oliver, it becomes clear to us why as the sexual chemistry sparks between them. As Philip struggles to come to terms with his repressed feelings and Sylvia comes to a growing awareness of why he is acting like he is, this story is pursued to its heartbreaking end with all three actors giving stunning performances. Jay Simpson also does sterling work in a number of small roles across both time periods.
But emotionally speaking, it is the modern-day segments that struck home most for me as although the hard-won (relative) sexual freedom may mean that it is ‘easier’ to be gay, there are still big questions of identity, about what does it mean to be a gay man now and how much of cultural behaviour is just adopted or learned rather than being true to oneself. Here, Oliver and Philip are the couple but their relationship is seriously threatened by Oliver’s addiction to casual anonymous sex: greater freedom means greater responsibility, not a free ticket to long-lasting happiness and neatly, it is Sylvia – here Oliver’s fag-hag – whose determination to find and protect personal fulfilment shows the universality of Kaye Campbell’s message: we all want intimacy.
But for all the universality, this remains an important gay play and one which left me questioning much about just how we have actually come. The horrendous self-denial and where it leads in the 1950s is still too prevalent today in some, and the attitudes of those who would ‘cure’ homosexuality continue to wield pernicious influence. And turning to the modern-day context, there’s something depressingly recognisable in the sex-obsessed antics that has come to characterise a very visual and vocal part of contemporary urban gay life, is this the progress we want, that was fought for? A beautifully affecting, powerful play that makes me glad I made the effort and excited for Kaye Campbell’s forthcoming play at the Royal Court.