This week, my play is to be performed in full for the first time. I’m sure you can imagine just how emotional this has been for me – seeing my words come to life before me feels truly special. I’m filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Anyone who has been close to me over the past year knows how many ups and downs I have had with this play; I was lucky enough to have an extract performed in Michaelmas at HATCH, but this will be the first time I have ever seen Val come to life. Perhaps I should tell you the plot.
Henry is a young man, growing up in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, about 40 minutes away from where they make Wensleydale Cheese. I love Swaledale, it’s truly stunning – but just like Henry in the play, I spent much of my teenage years wishing for bigger and better things. Whether Cambridge can really be considered that is another question – but I certainly saw it as a way out. Henry is learning Latin with Maurice, a private tutor. Over the course of the play we see their relationship unfold, and begin to learn more and more about Maurice’s past; like in any small rural community, there are rumours flying around about the gay widower. We also get to see Henry’s relationship with his mum Val – a single parent and only child, together against the world. Henry begins to learn more about who he is through Maurice, setting his sights on getting into Cambridge, as he falls in love with his tutor.
The concept of a rehearsed readthrough is relatively rare in Cambridge Theatre and, though I’m happy to be proved wrong, I believe this is the first time the Larkum has been used as a performance space since before covid. The idea behind this format is it allows a small-scale, one-off performance where I can get audience reactions to the work and test it out. There is no set, and the actors will have scripts in their hands, but I’ve been loving it despite its different format, and it comes at the bargain price of £3 for audience members. It’s been a real delight working with my cast to bring the play to life. I had a particularly emotional moment in rehearsal today when I heard the music, by the incomparable William Want, come into the piece. I’ve also found myself falling in love with the poster by Charlotte Bunney, who actually went to the same primary school as me, and has also expressed her love of the dales.
You can probably tell it’s an incredibly important and personal piece to me, though not autobiographical. I’ve never seen anyone from my background represented on stage before – the closest thing would probably be the film God’s Own Country or Alan Bennet’s The History Boys (although something about living in the middle of nowhere does affect your view of things) – I hope other queer people can see some of themselves in it too.
You can see Antinous in the Swale by Tom Chandler for one night only on the 17th February, and tickets can be bought here: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/play/antinous-in-the-swale/