Did gay Conservatives have it easier in the past? Tory Boyz makes me think they did

One thing Ted Heath never had to confront was unbelievably bigoted, bullying colleagues

19 October 2013

9:00 AM

19 October 2013

9:00 AM

Tory Boyz

Ambassadors, until 27 November

Bryony Kimmings: Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

Soho Theatre, until 26 October

Bang! The race is on. James Graham is the celebrated author of This House, a superb examination of Labour’s administrative bellyflops during the 1970s, which premièred at the National last year. Some time ago, Graham was asked to update his 2008 play, Tory Boyz, about homosexuality in the Conservative party. Over the same period, the Tories have been furiously updating themselves. Who will embrace the future first?

Graham’s play is a blend of then and now. He imagines an openly gay youngster working in the Tory policy unit, and he compares his experience with Ted Heath’s career in the 1950s. (That Heath was gay is taken for granted.) But the sprint is over before it’s even begun. Graham’s reworked script hasn’t the legs to outpace the Tory modernisers who earlier this year legalised gay marriage. This befuddles the play’s purpose.

Graham attempts to dramatise the travails of his gay character by inventing a swaggering Conservative bully who humiliates his colleagues and mocks their sexuality with barrages of loathsome jibes. It’s scarcely credible that such a figure could exist today, let alone escape detection. His brand of vicious bigotry would be secretly recorded and broadcast on Channel 4 in a sensational exposé of rotten Tory throwbacks. Despite the play’s crisp and convincing dialogue, it misses the cultural moment. It feels dated.

The play’s historical sections are hampered by the character of the ambitious young Heath. He proves intractable on stage. An intelligent, laconic, elusive and entirely humourless mummy’s boy, Heath never reveals himself. Nor does the play threaten his defences or present him with choices that would force him to open up. My guess is that Graham has been bewitched by late-vintage Heath, the Incredible Sulk, who glowered like a toad on the green benches for three decades.

But Heath in his heyday was refreshing and approachable. For starters, he was called Ted, like some bloke down the pub. His signature attribute was his bonhomie. Everyone in the country could impersonate him. You just had to roar with laughter and let your shoulders trampoline up and down. Compared with the shifty and neurotic Wilson, he was attractive and colourful (yachtsman, maestro), and he gave the impression of being fun to be around. But in this play Heath shows no trace of psychological complexity. He’s like Billy Bunter impersonating a cagey swat. And the script reaches puzzling conclusions about the evolution of the Tory party. If anything, it seems that life was easier for gay Tories in the past. When the closet was the only place to be, that’s where the shrewd politician stayed. And Heath had plenty of time to rehearse credible answers to tricky questions. As I recall there wasn’t much talk of his homosexuality in the 1970s. All the gossip centred on another notorious bachelor whom everyone ‘knew’ was gay: Prince Charles.

Bryony Kimmings brings her Edinburgh hit to Soho. The show opens with her on stage with her niece performing sexy duets. Kimmings strips down to a bra and spangled shorts while caressing herself suggestively. The niece, aged nine, gyrates and throws herself on her back and then flings her legs wide apart. This is intended as a ‘protest against the world’s attempt to sexualise and commodify childhood’. Right. And afterwards they strike a blow against vandalism by smashing up the theatre. The show’s kaleidoscopic range is hard to read. Bits of this and that are bunged in everywhere: sword fights, scripted banter, pious sermons, dramatic wig changes, a puppet dance, with audience participation, which is aimed at the under-threes.

Kimmings favours us with choice excerpts from her diary. She has rape fantasies, she wants a baby, she watches porn even though it’s unethical. These wordy gobbets could be improved by the addition of a punchline or two in the way that dough can be improved by the addition of yeast. After half an hour, she tells us she’s not a stand-up or an actor. She’s a performance artist. Now we’re getting somewhere. Most performance art is muddled exhibitionism constrained by nothing but the budget. Kimmings fitted snugly into this stereotype. It occurred to me that the performing niece was being exploited by her attention-seeking aunt, whose bungling script, if performed solo, would lack any semblance of moral depth.

As I left the auditorium, the gym-slip starlet was seated in the upstairs bar glowing with post-show euphoria. ‘You were brilliant,’ said a delighted punter.’ ‘Thank you,’ she twinkled. This cheered me no end. Clearly, she’s having the time of her life. Ms Kimmings, and her sister, are to be congratulated for springing the youngster from the dreary imprisonment of kiddie normality and giving her an experience that will do wonders for her confidence. And hopefully, as an adult, she’ll aim higher than performance art.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Hugh_Oxford

    There’s a difference between gay and homosexual.

    The former implies a political and ideological position, a social and cultural identity, an identification with a group, a part of a movement which, of late, has come to symbolise the destruction of marriage and the family, the deprivation of children of mothers and fathers, the challenging of gender roles, and all manner of destabilising forces.

    The latter are just people who, through no fault or choice of their own, find it difficult to form sexual bonds with the opposite sex. They are often very good people who work hard and contribute enormously to society, and do not seek to cause problems for the mainstream.

    We should not allow the aggressive minority of the former to jade our views of the latter.

    • Jambo25

      I always thought that being gay meant you knew the words to virtually all of Sondheim’s songs while being homosexual meant you had sex with other men.

      • roger

        I though homosexuals felt love for other men, not just having sex.
        As for the redefining of the word gay, now it appears to be an insulting word (depending on who uses it, like ni****) which is what happened to ‘queer’, the Isherwood generation used it as an ‘in’ self-reference but that was turned against them so they took gay.
        Noel Coward used to use both in his more risque songs.

        • Jambo25

          it was a joke one of my gay pals (Actually, I think he’s bi.) told me.

    • Zantedeschia

      They both imply the same thing. However you’re merely suggesting they’re different containers of meaning, without providing a basis for the assertion, other than putting your own ill-founded ill-feeling into the one and not the other, associating ‘gay’ with ‘sexually active and unashamed’ (with no basis to so assert a necessary association), linking it with the necessary consequences, e.g. two-parent families, successful homosexual relationships, etc; and then placing your unsupported and woolly alludings-toward of celibacy and frustration in an honourable box of ‘homosexuality’.

      I imagine you work in eng lit or something because you’ve produced a literate and snappy fiction bereft of argument or logic.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Oh come, sir. You think that homosexuals are OK so long as they are tortured and unhappy like Somerset Maugham. Let’s hear it for Noel Coward, who shafted any boy that moved (and consented natch) and had a ball..

      • Seadog

        Goering had two, but they were small.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “According to Michael Shrimpton (barrister), Jimmy Savile procured children from Haute de Gaurenne children`s home in Jersey and took them to Heath’s boat, “Morning Cloud”, where they were abused and murdered and thrown overboard.
    I never believed those malicious rumours for a moment.

    • Toby Esterházy

      Then why do you deliberately repeat them?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Ever heard the expression, “Never believe anything until it`s been officially denied.”
        So I want you to make the most illogical, off-topic, balls-to-the-wall, idiotic, wrong-headed, totally inaccurate comment based in flawed conjecture and fundamental misunderstanding, thus to keep the thread going. You should manage that standing on your head.
        Imagine the headline the British establishment would most hate to see: “Former PM denounced as homosexual, paedophile, child murderer, associate of Jimmy Savile, and Satanist”.

        • Toby Esterházy

          You live in Japan, as a Japanese! Nowt t’do wi’ yer in any case!

          Did you manage to find any dirt on Mrs. T. as well?

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Now explain why the local police spend weeks digging up the grounds of Haute de Gaurenne childrens` home searching for the bodies of missing children. He didn`t find any bodies of course because the murdered children had been “buried” at sea. However, Authority called off the diligent police officer when it looked like he might be making some progress. Knowing this it`s easy to understand why politicians like David Miliband was never prosceued for “involvement in torture”. Quid pro quo, quid pro quo.
            Jack, still British, still in Japan, so kiss my donkey

          • Toby Esterházy

            Jersey is a separate (but non-independent) Country with their own separate Government.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            So what? Does that mean you can get away with child murder?

          • Toby Esterházy

            David Icke is not “news”.

            Why would Edward Heath want to commit murder in Jersey? It is a separate jurisdiction, practically a foreign Country, and Heath would had been a practically foreigner himself with no direct jurisdiction; and spare us from the “stayed-behind Germans” nonsense!

            “You”? Are you talking to a dead man, now? Brush up your horrendous English first before start making wild accusations!

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Commit murder? A paedophile getting rid of the victims and witnesses. Surely you can understand that. You of all people.

          • Toby Esterházy

            Get help, son! David Icke is not “news”!

  • MikeF

    Why not write a play about an openly ‘gay’ Labour Party member in a constituency dominated by an alliance hard-left activists and Muslim fundamentalists? Now that might be topical.

  • Toby Esterházy

    Will there please be an automatic permanent ban for conspiracy-theorists who posts nonsense (even if they subsequently transpires as truth) from David Icke’s sites? This is the Spectator, not “Conspiracy Planet”!

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      “We the of sound mind and full capacity Readers of the Spectator newspaper …”
      What you? Sound mind? I was rolling on the floor there. You`re as nutty as a fruit cake, Jock.
      “…glorifying the Provisional Irish Republican Army”
      Didn`t realise you were such a fan.

      • Toby Esterházy

        “Jack, the Japan Alps Brit. Up the RA.” Mad as a mad hatter.