In the opening work for Red Stitch’s second season for the year, British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell muses on the lot of the modern gay male, and how far we’ve really come from our more closeted counterparts of decades past.

The Pride presents one protagonist, Phillip, in two parallel universes – 1958 and 2008. While 50 years separate the two Phillips, played in both instances by actor Lyall Brooks, his struggles have marked similarities.

“Phillip in 1958 is presented with his soul mate, and he deals with that in the true 1958 way – by suppressing it and trying to continue to have a ‘normal’ life with a wife, even though he’s battling against his natural calling,” Brooks told the Star Observer.

“In 2008, it’s like he’s been reborn anew as the same person and given another chance. This time, while he’s able to have a normal life with another man, the problem is that same soulmate’s addicted to anonymous, promiscuous sex. He’s fighting for a normal life all over again.”

It’s a particularly challenging role for Brooks, who has to portray the same character dealing with two contrasting situations in two distinct time periods.

“I find the modern stuff so easy to connect to. As an actor, I feel like I’m not really applying a lot of acting tools to this – I say the words and I’m just bawling, because it’s such a well-crafted piece of writing,” he said.

“On the other hand, the 1958 work is difficult in that it’s 1958 in Britain, and they had a certain facade that people put on and a certain way of saying things. It could easily become a fussy little chamber play where all you do is read the words in a funny voice.”

With prolific Melbourne director Gary Abrahams (The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later) at the helm, cast and crew have approached Campbell’s text as two distinct works, leaving audiences to draw comparisons between the two.

“We’ve trusted that the writing speaks for itself and the audience will be able to make the connections between the two periods themselves,” Brooks said.

Of course, with modern-day Phillip trapped in a cycle of heartbreak to rival the misery he lived through in 1958, one has to wonder if Campbell’s making a statement about the happiness – or otherwise – of today’s sexually liberated gay men.

“One of the other characters articulates the lot of gay people in society now, and how we’re often diminished, even if people don’t realise it.

“One character asks, ‘You’re not oppressed anymore, you’re not forced to do it in secret – why are you still seeking anonymous sex?’

“The play is seeing how the same people, presented with similar circumstances, deal with the cards they’re dealt in different eras. It’s about how much society influences the choices we make.”

INFO: The Pride, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, July 25-August 18.

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