Old prejudice in a new world order

13th November 1998 at 00:00
In the chat with the cast and Glasgow audience after the West Lothian Youth Theatre's performance of Plague of Innocence , author Noel Greig was asked if he thought his pleas for the "decriminalising" of homosexuality had lost any relevance in the 10 years since it was written. The author thought not. In evidence that day, broadcasts on the "outing" of a Cabinet minister started by reporting him as "admitting" his homosexuality,only later to be changed to "acknowledging".

You could argue that in some ways the play has gained in topicality. Part of Greig's thesis is that the advent of the HIV virus was a grim "sign of the times" of post-Chernobyl Europe, where infection could fall out of the sky, and where people's immune systems were to come under attack from ever more unexpected sources.

He conjures up an apocalyptic vision of a country where the popular mind has locked homosexuality and Aids into an unholy alliance of sex and death,and the people have been brain-washed by an Orwellian state to accept the treatment of homosexuals reminiscent of European Jews under the Nazis, or black South Africans under apartheid.

Another growing topicality is that this nightmare vision is set in the last seconds of this millennium. You could almost suspect recent re-writing in the way that the word "new" is sprayed around by the stormtroopers of the New Order, preparing the country for its New Dawn. Nevertheless, we are assured that all this percipience is fully 10 years old.

It was originally created for the education drama team at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre, for a tour of Yorkshire secondary schools, shortly before the writing of Clause 28 might have made it inadvisable.

Greig says of the West Lothian production that "being performed by a youth theatre makes him feel legitimate". But what can the youth theatre take from the performance? One of the cast spoke of the difficulty of coming to terms with the text which is in the form of dramatic verse.

Add to this the tricky acoustic of the Ramshorn theatre foyer, and the committed and well-rehearsed cast had to strain every nerve to communicate the intensity of Greig's vision. By way of compensation, it is a very inexpensive production and wisely designed for touring in non-theatre venues. This factor made it easy for West Lothian to revive it for the Glasgay Festival, some months after its original production for the company's exchange with the Romanian Teatrul de Tinteret.

As part of the festival, the performance has to be counted among those "preaching to the converted". Not that this in itself is a wasted exercise; 20 years ago Greig was a founder member of the ground-breaking theatre company, Gay Sweatshop, which he happily described as "going round the country, entertaining the troops". Nevertheless, the play's origins in secondary schools are much more valid, and seeing the play at such a time and place was another reminder of the meagre provision of theatre-in-education in schools nowadays.

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