HI ding {the baby

Balzveakes is the first of Armistead Maupin’s much-loved Tales Of The City books ever to be staged, and a small Scottish company is doing it. Clyde Unity Theatre’s John Binnie tells Andrew Burnet how

an impossible dream came true.

ne day in I984. John Binnie. writer and director for Glasgow's Clyde Unity Theatre. was sitting on a train. The train broke down. A few minutes later. Binnie broke down too. He’d just started reading Bahycakes. the fourth in Armistead Maupin’s hugely popular series of novels. Tales ()f'l‘lte City.

‘lt opens with the Queen and Prince Philip and I thought. Oh My (10ml. Queen Elizabeth’s gonna be a main character!’ he recalls. ‘But then. three chapters in. you realise the character of Jon has died: and l remember starting to cry on this train.‘

Jon Fielding has the tragic distinction of being the first fictional character in the world to develop Aids. As a gay man living in and. writing about San Francisco in the early l98()s. Maupin was unenviably. yet ideally. placed to introduce the issue of the day into his work. He dedicated Bahveakes to Daniel Katz. a friend who had died of Aids in I982. The most sombre of the six Tales Of The C'in books Babyeakes is to be presented by Clyde Unity Theatre in an adaptation by John Binnie.

Incredibly. this is the first staging of Maupin‘s work anywhere in the world. Babyeakes also marks the Glasgow-based company’s tenth anniversary. ‘We thought. if we could choose anything in the world. what would we really

want to do'.” says Binnie. ‘And we thought it would be wonderful to try doing an Armistead Maupin piece. Because a lot of the themes that we are trying to deal with especially around the friendships between gay men and straight women and the right to be individual - we thought it would be ideal material for us to adapt.‘ As a gay playwright. 3 l -year—old Binnie has frequently explored similar issues in his own work.

There were personal resonances too in this production. The copy of Baliveakes which moved Binnie so much was a hot-off—the-press

‘We read the Maupin books as a company. One book went round the ten of us. You wanted the next instalment so desperately that you were allowed

the book for two days.’

American edition given to him by Alasdair Cameron. the chairman of Clyde Unity who had been his teacher at Glasgow University‘s theatre department. ‘We read the books as a company.’ says Binnie. ’Alasdair did some teaching in America and he would bring the latest instalment back for us. Poor Amistead didn‘t get much reimbursement because one book went round the ten of us. You wanted the next

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John Blnnle: making babycakes with Armistead Maupln

instalment so desperately that you were allowed the book for two days.‘

Then. two years ago. Cameron died of Aids. aged 4|. ‘I wouldn’t be who I was ifl hadn’t met him.’ reflects Binnie. ‘He was one of those people who you just expect to be around forever and who isn’t. I miss him a lot.’

But Bal)_\‘(‘akes is much more than a gloomy wallow. While Jon‘s mourning lover Michael visits Death Valley. Arizona and London. England. life continues at 28 Barbary Lane the house in San Francisco‘s steep Russian Hill district on which Maupin‘s Tales centre. Enigmatic landlady Anna Madrigal is still dispensing wisdom and homegrown marijuana to her family of tenants: her lost daughter Mona is hinting she might return. TV reporter Mary Ann and her househusband Brian are trying for a baby. and a mysterious Englishman is drawn into the fold. The usual soapy intrigues follow. written with Maupin’s customary warmth. wit and acute observation.

Negotiations between this tiny theatre company and Maupin’s high-powered agents in New York were never going to be easy: but eventually a message on Binnie’s answering machine came through. ‘I think he was very intrigued by the idea that it would open in - Scotland.’ says Binnie. ‘lt wasn‘t some kind of super-dooper West End kind of glossy affair.’ Still. Channel 4‘s television Tales Of The City had already proved that Brits could do Frisco proud.

There was a false start when Binnie submitted his first draft (‘a very difficult and very long phone conversation where Armistead said. “Well. I think you should be much more faithful to the book.” ') But after two rewrites. Maupin is ‘really really delighted with the script and very very excited to see what we’re doing with it.’ claims Binnie. The author arrived in Glasgow this week and. with the show’s opening just a few days off. says Binnie. ‘he’s just going to have to muck in.’

The adaptation is still fairly free. with singing choruses of American tourists and gay clones with stick-on handlebar moustaches. In the neat. economical hands of former Traverse director Ian Brown. the eight-strong cast can hardly fail to win a few hearts.

As a cheeky spin-off. Binnie hopes to get audience members winning each others’ hearts too. Each venue will have a Babycakes Singles Night. at which the unattached. ‘whether gay. straight or slightly curly‘ will be plied with vodka and chocolate and encouraged to associate. ‘If you’ve got a group of like-minded people sitting in that theatre and they’re single. they should chat to each other and see what happens.’ says Binnie. ‘Sometimes it’s good to get off with somebody, don't you think?’ Babycakes is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 24 Jan—Sun 2 Feb; then visits London before returning to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 5-Star 9 Mat:

The List 24 Jan-6 Feb I997 17