Sydney during the 1980s and 90s had a burgeoning subculture. The establishment of the popular annual Mardi Gras parade, the exuberant depravity of Kings Cross and Oxford Street’s unabashed display of queerness framed the city as being one of liberal-mindedness and conviviality.
The ugly truth is that during these same two decades, the homosexual community was subjected to a campaign of violent crime, persecution and murder, while the media, local authorities and especially the police mostly turned a blind eye.
When actor/playwright Ben Noble read about a 12-year-old boy who had participated in the bashings, he started to wonder about who the boy might be. Where is he now? What would be his response if he was confronted by his past crimes in an intimate and ironic way?
Noble’s conjectures formed the basis of his one-man play, Member. In it, Corey, a middle-aged man, is at the hospital bedside of his teenage son who is the victim of a gay bashing; and Corey is disclosing dark and regrettable stories about his past.
Corey is just one of sixteen characters all played by Noble. They each present a different part of the narrative from a different point of view. As a starting point, Noble asked ten writers to respond to a selection of source material – pictures, articles, reports – by writing a monologue or scene for one person. The characters and script for Member then evolved directly from those responses.
The play doesn’t overtly comment – Noble sees it more as an exploration of the personalities and ideals of a diverse range of people.
“You’re trying to work out how they tick… They all believe they’re right in some way, and it’s not my job to judge that, it’s for an audience to do that.”
Researching, writing and then performing what is often horrific material is obviously challenging, but also offers a rare insight into human nature and has made Noble passionate about trying to find answers.
“It’s definitely opened my eyes a lot… it makes me more angry that a lot of people still haven’t spoken up about it. There are definitely people who know the facts and have kept quiet for nearly 40 years and I think that’s really frustrating.”
Member was first performed at Midsumma in Melbourne and will be part of the current Mardi Gras Festival. Noble would ultimately like to take it to a wider mainstream audience but is happy to begin with a more receptive crowd. Besides, there are still people in the gay community who don’t know about that period in its history.
He is also looking at the possibility of taking it to schools – hopefully finding and addressing homophobic attitudes before they acted out.
“The more that I keep doing it the more it raises the discussion about it, and the more people that talk about it, the better.”
See Member at the Blood Moon Theatre, The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross from February 21 to March 4. Tickets are $20 – $29 available from EventBrite.