Sunday, 9 October 2016

Arnold Wesker's celebration

I got home from the Shame event last night, posted my blog and, in doing so, checked the first few feeds on my Facebook page. One of them came from a bloke who'd requested my friendship a couple of months ago. I'm fairly relaxed about accepting requests from people I'm not sure I know. I have fairly poor facial recognition facilities, so often assume the request comes from someone I probably ought to know who's associated with NYMT or an LGBT group. Anyway, the Shame event had filled me with many thoughts. Is gay shame now an historic phenomenon, and therefore something which we all need to move on from? I, for one, have not experienced shame about my sexuality since I was about eighteen. Perhaps that's simply because I've lived in a glorious bubble filled with creative people with wonderful open minds. Who knows? Frankly, since Brexit, I have no idea why anything happens any more.

Whatever the case, I suddenly discovered last night, when I opened Facebook, that the LGBT movement still has a long way to go - and that the problem is as much within our community as it is without. It turns out that the bloke who'd requested my friendship is gay, but obviously firmly imbedded in a world of self-hatred, because he wrote the following:

"With regards to all this crap about homophobic crime 😡 if the gays of the world didn't mince and flaunt their sexuality puffing it about like they own everything and wanting the whole world to know their business then maybe it would reduce !!!! To be gay does not mean you have to be a mincing queer pushing your sexuality in people's faces..." (and so it (and the emoticons) went on...)

If a gay man can hate himself that much, then Shame really is an issue within our community. A big big issue which we need to address however we can.

On a far more positive note, today marked the occasion of Arnold Wesker's "celebration of life" at the Royal Court Theatre. It was an almost perfect occasion. Rosie and I met at noon and spent a few hours in the building, helping designer Pamela Howard who'd organised the entire event. It transpires that Arnold called Pamela to his bed, not long before his death, and gave her lengthy instructions about what was to happen at his memorial concert, much of which, in true Arnold style, was utterly impractical! When she questioned him, he apparently said that the practicalities weren't his problem!

The line-up for today's event was astonishing. Samantha Spiro, Sir Ian McKellan, Henry Goodman, Mike Leigh, playwright David Edgar, Jessica Raine, Linda Bassett... The great and the good of theatre were seemingly all there, including (in the audience, we're told) Joan Ploughwright. Rosie and I were providing the afternoon's only musical number.

It was dreadfully nerve-wracking, sitting on the stage, waiting for our turn to perform, particular as the tributes and readings became increasingly more moving. I had way too much time to over-think what I was going to be playing, and, at one stage, went into a massive panic because I'd convinced myself that I couldn't remember any of the notes. My fingers turned into little wobbling twigs as I started to play Shone With The Sun, and the first verse was somewhat ineffectual. As the chorus started, I decided that the nerves were a choice and that I simply needed to take a breath and get on with it! From then on it was plain sailing.

Rosie sang delightfully and had the audience in the palm of her hand. I looked up towards the end and it seemed that everyone was in tears. The entire front row: Arnold's children, his closest friends and his wife, Dusty, were all mopping their eyes.

There were some lovely readings from Arnold's shows. It was a great treat to hear the oh-so-familiar dulcet tones of Sir Ian McKellen and wonderful to hear Samantha Spiro reading from Chicken Soup With Barley, but it was Jessica Raine who stole the show by reading Beatie Bryant's electrifying final monologue from Roots. Great acting. Great writing. Arnold would have been bursting with pride all afternoon.

We all went to the bar after the performance, where everyone was very lovely and I was instantly transported back to the optimistic days of the late 1990s when I'd get a different set of lyrics from Arnold every week, which he wanted me to set to music. At the same time I was working at the Royal Court and hanging out at events like today's. I was Rosie's age back then, so I was rather chuffed to be there with her, and seeing the excitement of it all through her eyes. It's easy to get a bit jaded when you're as ancient as I am!

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