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Say it loud
Ruffling Scotland’s pink boa, Glasgay! proved an unprecedented success when it was launched in 1993. The nation’s first celebration of gay culture attracted 23,000 and a blaze of publicity — this year, 100,000 are expected to whoop it up in Glasgow’s streets, theatres, cinemas and clubs. Headlining the ten-day festival is Neil Bartlett, a writer and director who speaks to audiences across the sexual spectrum. Jane Cornwell meets the man hell-bent on smashing barriers.
Writer. director. translator. performer and founder of the Gloria Theatre Company. Neil Bartlett believes in breaking down barriers. in linking the personal and the political with the past and the present. the mainstream with gay subculture. by crossing the boundaries between high and low art. Bartlett has been rewarded with an ever-expanding audience.
His aim. he says. is to enlighten as well as entertain. As artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith forjust over a year. he continues to leave his intelligently diverse mark with all the theatrical flourish of a modern day Zorro.
Those who saw him. sans pubic hair and dressed only in shoulder-length pre-Raphaelite curls in A Vision Of Love Revealed In Sleep, have been equally drawn to novels like Ready ’12; Catch Him Should I Fall and his Wilde biography Who Was That Man?. Musicals like Night After Night. investigating the dichotomy between 50s chorus boys and the heterosexual courting couples in their audience. make up a back catalogue including a series of shows on women who kill — ‘Anger that's induced by powerlessnes is something I‘m interested in expressing‘ — and the award-winning screenplay Now That It 's Morning.
His uncompromising gay sensibility includes a recurring concern to demonstrate gay culture existed way before the first brick was thrown at Stonewall in I969. Refusing to concede he's more proliﬁc than the next person — ‘If you want to make live art you have to put in the hours' — the crop-haired. bespectacled Bartlett says his work‘s collaborative nature helps explain his productivity.
Sitting chain-smoking in checked shirt and ripped jeans. amid the Lyric's 19th century red velvet opulence and gilt-encrusted grandeur. the 36-year—old chuckles at the suggestion he's wearing two hats. ‘Any self-respecting queen has far more than two hats in their wardrobe.‘ he says, ‘but I have a single role. The great thing about working in a building and having produced a body of work is that I don't have
to say: “When l‘rn working with Julian Clary doing a Genet play (the re—discovered .S‘plendids), only young men in T-shirts will come.“ Or. that in doing a Somerset Maugham play with Joanna Lurnley (The Letter) I‘m doing proper theatre which will attract people like my mother.
‘The audience here are getting used to the Lyric not fitting into neat little categories. There‘s no duplicity: no “Oh. you migbtn't like this. but what about that?" it worked both ways. You might think. because The
Letter is a story about a sexually frustrated housewife j
"People want to see a good show with
a bit of filth of an evening, and who am
Ito deny them? I’m a great believer in a good show.’
shooting her lover six times in the back ofthe head. “Well. that‘s not very gay. is it?“ Well. think again! It's that sort of mobility l relish.‘
Bartlett‘s appointment might have raised a few eyebrows, but it tnade perfect sense. given that he had fought the funding battle for years. Now. thanks to a marketing strategy of ‘good nights out at slightly cheaper prices'. a bit of sponsorship. some live music programming and a policy of ‘working with good artists'. a £35().()()() deficit has been eradicated. The Lyric is rapidly becoming one of Britain‘s most creatively challenging, financially successful theatres. ‘It might have been daunting if 1 was doing it on my own.‘ he says. ‘but l‘tn not.‘
Even when performing solo. Bartlett says he never suffers front nerves. ‘All gay men have to act in order
Neil Bartlett: ‘All gay men have to act in order to survive‘
to survive.‘ he maintains. ‘but you have to have a clear head. It requires a lot of sheer bloody nerve to walk out in front of any number of the fee-paying public. whether you‘re opening a variety bill at the Palladium or being a support act to Bauhaus. both of which I've done. 01‘ playing at the Glasgow Citizens‘ — as I‘m about to do.‘
Part ofGlasgayl. Neil Bartlett Reads will see Neil Bartlett doing precisely that. ‘l'm just going tip for the one night.‘ he says. ‘So, I‘m taking the obligatory clean pair of knickers btrt also a big bag of books ~- sorne by me. some by others -— which I'll delve into.‘ He admits he is slightly apprehensive about reading frorn his forthcoming novel Mr Page. the diary of a Sclfr'idges employee. beginning in I886 and ending with the death of Rock Hudson in l985. It's the first time be has done so.
‘l‘ll also be r‘eprising Vince The Barman. whom some of the audience may rernerneber from Night After Night as the West End theatre barman who gets carried away after a few gin and tonics. There might even be a bit of nudity — once you‘ve taken your clothes off once. people do expect you to do it again. We‘ll just have to see what else comes out of the bag. It rnigbt be the final scene frotn :1 Racine tragedy or lyrics from a musical comedy. 01'. perhaps some filth. I think people want to see a good show with a bit of filth of an evening. and who am I to deny them? I‘m a great believer in a good show.‘
Glasgay.’ runs/rout Friday 27 ()t‘toher-—.S'anda_v 5 November: Neil Bartlett readsjrom his new novel Mr Page at the (.‘tttzens' Theatre. Glasgow and later discusses gay and lteterose.t‘tatl art at the city's 'l’ron Theatre. on Wednesday 1 November:
16 The List 20 Oct-2 Nov 1995