Review: What’s Wrong With Angry?

Rose Aitchison 2 November 2017

It’s not often that I see a play that truly stays with me, and leaves me thinking about it long afterwards. But throughout today, when staring blankly at the veg section of Sainsbury’s, wondering why there are so many words for ‘man’ in Middle English, or performing the King’s Parade tourist slalom, I found my mind wander to What’s Wrong with Angry.

Written by Patrick Wilde and occupying the Week 5 Corpus Mainshow slot, the play tells the story of Steven Carter (Jamie Sayers), a sixteen year old gay boy in 1992 Basingstoke. Bullied by his peers and with his parents assiduously maintaining that he is a ‘late bloomer when it comes to the opposite sex’, Steven finds an escape in frequent cottaging with older men and in his crush on the head boy of his school, John Westhead (Benedict Clarke). However, things become a little more complicated as the play progresses.

This is the second production which Sophie Leydon has directed with the Cambridge University Queer Players. Both plays are characterised by a gentle, tender sense of intimacy, and a sense of a real sensitivity to representing the experiences of queer people. Even the scenes in What’s Wrong With Angry? which fairly explicitly depicted sexual encounters never felt voyeuristic or put-on – they felt like a genuine show of intimacy and affection between the characters. I found myself wondering whether or not some of the actors were dating in real life- surely what I was seeing couldn’t be just a pair of actors deeply in character?

The fantastic work done in casting and in acting sat alongside direction as being perhaps at the heart of the play achieving this level of intimacy. Leydon tells me a majority of the cast and crew are queer in one way or another, and what the play does so brilliantly is to give such insight into a shared experience of growing up whilst struggling with a world that doesn’t want to listen when you tell it that you’re queer. Particularly worthy of commendation were incredibly moving performances by Sayers and Clarke and by Eduardo Strike as Hutton, the sympathetic teacher desperate to help Steven, who narrates his own experiences as a gay man in scenes that feel otherworldly from the concreteness of Steven’s narrative.

The technical aspects of this play felt utterly seamless. Particularly to be commended was Lisa Bernhardt’s set, including the paintings which lined the Playroom walls and the enormous bed/bench used in almost every scene. The paintings, at once abstract and deeply specific, form the furniture of Steven’s life, with Jason Donovan smiling down next to an extremely well-painted urinal. The bed/bench was particularly striking. Its pale pinkness, the same hue as the hallucinatory elephants from ‘Dumbo’, loomed large in semi-darkness and in the light, a constant reminder of Steven’s elephant in the room.

For all the stellar work done by all members of the company, you can’t build a palace on sand, and Wilde’s writing is an extremely strong foundation on which to build the production. As pastichey as it sounds, I genuinely did laugh and cry during this play, and it is hilarious and harrowing in equal measure.

Everyone should see this play, no matter their sexuality. This is theatre with a purpose, and theatre with an important purpose. I look forward to seeing what else the Cambridge University Queer Players have to offer Cambridge.