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Interview: Playwright Jennifer Cerys on queer history and 3D lesbian characters

Playwright Jennifer Cerys' new play Dandelion at the King's Head Theatre explores queer history through a lesbian relationship in the time of Clause 28. Here she talks about why queer history is important and the need to diversify queer narratives in mainstream theatre.

Dandelion Show ImageIt’s 30 years since Clause 28 why is it important for queer history to be on the stage?

Though it may be 30 years since Clause 28 was introduced, and 15 years since it was repealed, the effects of it can still be seen in our education system today.

The School Report by Cambridge University last year found that 40% of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people are never taught anything about LGBT issues at school.

Though schools should obviously be the place where queer history is taught, showing it on stage will hopefully be a step in the right direction.

I know a young, queer me would’ve loved to have learnt about my community’s history at school, as it would have given me a greater sense of belonging and identity.

Some of the biggest plays of the past few years have centred on gay characters - Angels in America, The Inheritance, My Night With Reg (to name just three) which is fabulous to see but stories which feature lesbian narratives still feel like the preserve of fringe theatre. Is there a queer glass ceiling that needs smashing?

Definitely! It’s great to see any queer characters on stage, but lesbian narratives do seem to be forgotten.

I saw the brilliant Grotty by Damsel Productions earlier this year and that show was the first time I had seen lesbian characters on stage.

When I was growing up, lesbians and bisexual women were presented through a male gaze in an overly-sexualised way and I saw a lesbian for the first time over the shoulder of a boy at school who was watching porn on his phone.

Shows like Grotty (and hopefully Dandelion) show lesbians as much more 3D and complex than simply someone’s sexual fetish.

2nvHm-_s_400x400You are part of Paperclip, an all-female theatre company, is it getting any easier for female theatre-makers, writers and getting female narratives on stage?

Seeing the wave of female artistic directors announced recently has definitely given me hope but Victoria Sadler’s 2018 Theatre Review shows that the plays of female writers are still being confined to the smaller stages.

There’s been a lot of discussions recently about how female playwrights are often stuck in the ‘emerging playwright’ definition, with men going on to be ‘mid-career’ a lot quicker.

It seems that theatres are more willing to take risks on work by male playwrights than female.

But the good thing is the conversation is opening up and we are talking about the problems both on and off our stages.

And the brilliant thing is I’m seeing less female creatives asking for permission and instead of taking up space, putting on their work, asking the uncomfortable questions (and demanding answers), and supporting other female creatives.

Victoria’s new project Ovation is all about supporting women/womxn and non-binary creatives, and I’m so thankful for women championing each other in this industry.

Do you think better diversity in theatre criticism would help with diversity in theatre-making?

We really need more diversity in theatre criticism. Critics can encourage audiences to come (or the reverse) and can even help shows transfer.

The people deciding what shows are worthy of transferring or even just worthy in general shouldn’t represent just one group of people.

Theatre critics are voices we give authority and power to, and that power should never be contained to a singular section of society.

What is the best present theatre-land could give you for Christmas?

I’m going to Hamilton in December, and I can’t imagine a better present from theatre-land than that. Well, apart from seeing audiences (fingers crossed!) enjoy Dandelion.

Dandelion is at the King’s Head Theatre, 16 & 17 December for more details and tickets head to the King's Head website.

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