3rd March, 2020
“We don’t get anything in Brinton”
Following the success of his play Gypsy Queen, Emmerson & Ward Productions and Curve present Rob Ward’s new one-man play as part of the DMU Pride Festival. In what was its first public performance, The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me is a tightly written, confidently performed play about power, identity and communities. Ward skilfully takes us through 70 minutes of a multitude of well-drawn characters, tangible places, with provocative humour and some potent dramatic moments.
Ward’s central character is Dominic: a young gay man from a working-class background in the small town of Brinton. His dad ‘fucked off years ago’, and so now it’s just him and his mum, who has a fondness for Mick Hucknall and MDMA (the ‘Aunt Mandy’ of the title). But his desire to escape the provincial yonderland for something bigger is quashed by frequent panic attacks and limited career prospects, leaving him to turn to the virtual world of social media influencing, specifically, the competitive circle of the “InstaGays”. This contrast of worlds is effectively achieved in the opening scene where we see Dom’s love of steam trains, and the local railway station. It helps to establish a literal sense of place – small, quite rural, forgotten – set against the physically stylised realm of a photoshoot backdrop and camera lights, a nod to the controlled glamour of social media. This conflicting sense of identity, a young man still discovering himself, is a strong, relatable foundation on which the rest of the play is built.
Whilst working in catering, Dom meets local Labour MP (a ‘Blair-ite bastard’), Peter. He describes himself as a ‘perfect gay MP’: a Guardian reading, married, middle-class, ‘jam making knight of the theatre’, a public persona well-wrought and rehearsed to meet the pressures of the job and the scrutiny of the public. Peter hires Dom as his PR intern, taking the naïve youngster under his wing, introducing him to the exciting LGBT+ scene in the ‘big city’. However, the arrival of a new intern, Joey, unearths some uncomfortable truths and causes Dom to have doubts about his relationship with Peter.
The play, and perhaps more pointedly Clive Judd’s glib direction, excels in portraying the lurid, queasy, mind-bending highs (and lows) of Dom’s MDMA trips. On his knees in a club with a leather BDSM dog mask on, Dom feels liberated to be the confident man he wants to be. His new-found bravado even spurs him into approaching ‘InstaGay’ idol, Ryan, and a pro-tip that will surely spell success for his career as an influencer. Yet as the night moves on and Peter takes him back to his hot tub, the effects of the drugs warp the scene as the MP moves in on a powerless Dom; the leather mask loses its comedy/shock/sexy factor as we see the confusion and fear in his eyes, Ward’s voice gains a hollow tone, and a sense of disquiet permeates the room. The binary themes of power/powerlessness and immobility/mobility is played with again later in the play, when Dom and his mother have a brilliantly uncanny ‘Aunty Mandy’ face-off. Painfully pregnant pauses, bright lights, and the distorted tones of Mick Hucknall bleeding into the scene from some ether mingle to create an overwhelmingly surreal and mesmerising effect. Judd and Ward have produced one of the more sensationally primitive and evocative depictions of substance abuse; wildly different in technique, but equal in its lasting impression to Jeremy Herrin's production of MacMillan's People, Places and Things.
It’s remarkable how many themes Ward and Judd open up in such a short space of time: an unflinching exploration of multiple and interweaved cultures and societies, the quest for identity in a world where image is everything, political corruption, sexual exploitation, and the abuse of power…
Ward has a clear distinctive voice, with echoes of Jonathan Harvey in his blend of the banal and the fantastic, and in his sympathetic and honest portrayal of gay men. He gets under the skin of each of his distinct characters – from a bluff Tory politician, to a posh and reserved GP, to Dom’s cackling, grotesque mother – his performance always on point, empathetic and inviting. This is a very watchable play, with succinct themes that genuinely inspire unease. There has been much focus on #MeToo of late, and while it’s about time that such sexist and abusive behaviour towards women is exposed, The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me does a stellar job of highlighting the similar, but perhaps less well-publicised, sufferings within the LGBT+ community.
The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me plays at Curve, Leicester until 4th March.