Before beginning my journey to Camden to see The Gay Divorcee I telephoned to ask directions to the venue. How do I find you? I asked. A simple question, one might imagine. Indeed, I was given a simple answer : turn right out of the tube and we are about 100 yards up the High Street on the left. Easy peasy, I thought.
I arrived at Camden tube, turned left and looked for a noticeable theatre on the left hand side. Could I find one? No. In fact, I walked past enough street corners along Camden High Street to suggest that I was selling more than the Big Issue, if you know what I mean.
Finally, I resigned to the notion that I need to ask directions and stopped off at the nearest pub, The Oxford Arms, to do so. Excuse me... where is the Etcetera Theatre? I asked. Right here, mate, was the response. Clearly, the barman had had one to many shots of Smirnoff or was utterly crazy, so I repeated the question. No, I am looking for a theatre called the Etcetera? I said in a patronising manner. Yeah, mate, its over there on the other side of the bar, he claimed, gesturing towards a door that looked like the entrance to the toilets.
But he was right. I had inadvertently stumbled across the theatre, whose home is directly above the pub. A small, intimate venue with about 60 seats, where you can really feel inside the performance unfolding on the stage. It was as if I had found a venue that was unknown to the usual brash, hard core theatre-going public and was attending a private viewing of a new play.
The play was conceived in Australia and first performed at the Old Lion Theatre, Port Adelaide in 1990. Until now the piece had always been acted by the playwright Margaret Fisher, but for this UK premiere it is Sophie Duval who takes the honours. She plays an amusing Jewish gay woman, in her mid-twenties, who is suffering on New Years Eve as her partner of three years has an extra-marital affair with a girl called Sarah.
The emotion and trauma that she suffers as a result of her fraught relationship are severe and irrespective of her sexuality. I am just a comfortable, very well worn slipper, she complains as the clock slowly ticks toward midnight. I need to eat some chocolate.. desperately.
Interestingly she alternates between her personal plight and a fictional, cartoon-like character. The Jewish, mermaid grandmother recounts the story of her most beautiful grand merdaughter - who falls in love with a human prince and ends up a sea foam (dont ask questions). Although this is particularly amusing it also has parallels with her own story and is used effectively to make the audience laugh and cry simultaneously.
However, the most cutting, gripping and tear-jerking moment of the one-woman show is during a scene where she visits her counsellor. The counsellor spurts out all the clichéd lines and asks Gretel to shout dont leave me Sarah!... dont leave me Sarah! while breathing heavily. The audience is holding their breath as she continues: dont leave me mama... dont leave me mama.. I dont want to be alone! The tension could be cut with a knife.
The general message is, however, a positive one. The Gay Divorcee is a comic, modern-day fairy tale about life, love and wishing you had both. Etcetera will also be producing a male equivalent from 17 March for a limited run of one week only. Born Angry will be a shocking, moral tale where The Spirit of Youth is left for dead in a disused public toilet, known by local gay men of a Somerset village as Club Sex. It was here some five years ago that teenagers Andy and Bovril discarded their youth in favour of anonymous casual sex. Thats something I have never had a problem justifying - but as I said, dont ask questions.
Runs at the Etcetera. until the 22 March, concessions cost £5. Box office: 0171 482 4857.
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