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The Pride – Alexi Kaye Campbell

September 11, 2018

TPrWinner of the 2009 John Whiting Award for drama. The Pride examines changing attitudes to homosexuality over a period of 50 years, looking at intimacy, identity and the courage it takes to be who you really are. Some things may change but the complexities of the human heart remain eternal.

Two men meet for the first time at the house one shares with his wife, and the room is stifling with the heat of the unsaid. The men’s talk is stiff, fatuously jokey and mostly small, which isn’t surprising, given that they are middle-class Londoners and that the year is 1958. But when the wife says later, with a shiver, that she “felt something” in the room’s atmosphere, you know what she means, even if none of the characters onstage are willing to spell it out.

“The Pride” alternates the stories of two groups that share a set of names: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia.

In the 1950s scenes, Philip is married to Sylvia, a former actress turned illustrator who is working with Oliver, a children’s book author.

The Oliver of the 21st century is a journalist who has recently been left by his lover, Philip, and seeks consolation with his best friend, Sylvia, an actress.

The differences between the two Olivers provide the play’s most absorbing food for thought. The Oliver of the unforgiving 1950s recalls hearing, on a visit to Greece at the site of the Oracle of Delphi, a voice saying the world will become more tolerant and embracing. The Oliver of today hears a voice that propels him into repeated anonymous sexual hook-ups. It is also a voice that judges and condemns him.

It’s telling that the single most poignant scene belongs to Peter, a lad-magazine editor, who wants the 21st-century Oliver to write a feature about gay sex. Peter is a glib joke of a man, who believes (or pretends to) in the boyish bunk his magazine preaches. But in describing an uncle who died of AIDS, Peter is suddenly assaulted by a sorrow he seemingly didn’t know existed.

This isn’t just a social document about how the clipped repressions of the 1950s gave way to the freedoms of today, but a marvellous, sad and blisteringly funny account of the fear of being unloved, of never being able to be yourself, of waking in the night with your spouse or lover by your side and feeling like the loneliest person in the world.

These accounts offer an intriguing counterpoint between optimism in hard times and self-defeating pessimism in relatively easy ones.

It takes a woman to sort out the boys and set the anguished Olivers and Philips on the path to redemption. And the Sylvias’ relationships with those men feel more real than any others in the play. The suggestion is that, in this world, women are the only real grown-ups, and a boy’s best friend is an intuitive actress.

This is a play about self-knowledge, and the proposition seems to be that this is the key to achieving some kind of happiness in terms of sexual relationships. However, that kind of knowledge was of little use to gay men in the dark, dim and sad days before 1967 when the force of the law and the mood of society was so overwhelmingly repressive.

TPr 2“I felt that I had a pride. A pride for the person I was.”

OLIVER. Was that what happens between two people can be sacred. And important. And that it doesn’t matter who those two people are

OLIVER. It was as if I was watching myself. There were men… there was this one man and he… I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. We barely talked. Just a word. We didn’t even really look at each other. And then… then it was as if I wasn’t quite there. It was over in a couple of minutes. But it was as if I wasn’t really myself. As if I was watching. Like a bystander. A witness. I can’t describe it.


OLIVER. But then when I… when we… it wasn’t, it isn’t the same. Because, you see, there was something else, Philip. We had spoken and I felt that I knew something of who you were. Your fears. Your loneliness. Your wants. I saw in your eyes, that you too, like me, are a good man.

PHILIP. A good man?

OLIVER. Yes, Philip, a good man. A good man. A good man. And it was the first time, when we were together, when we were embracing that I felt that I had a pride. A pride for the person I was. PHILIP. Is this what you needed to tell me?

OLIVER. Yes, I suppose it is. I suppose I needed to tell you that what happened between us is not the same thing. Not the same as that place I went to.

PHILIP. It is the same. You’re deceiving yourself. It’s wrong.

OLIVER. And I thought that some of those men, if only you had seen them you would know what I mean, that some of those men, hovering, waiting in that dim flickering light, some of those men would also choose this, that maybe that’s what many of them want, but because they don’t know where… how to find it, and because they have been told that this is who they are, that they are these men who stand waiting to touch someone, to touch another man’s skin, that they’ve believed that’s all they are, but that what they want, what they really want is more than that, what they want is what we can have.., an intimacy with someone they can hold onto for a while, that what they want more than anything is 1 to be able to see them, to look at them, to look into their eyes and to knoW them. And be known.

PHILIP. Have you finished?

this is not about watching a sexually explicit scene but more about being aware of the violence of what has just happened between the two men.

provide you with any such objects. You will vomit in the room and you will have to remain surrounded by your own vomit till the therapy is over in the morning. After the first injection and the first bout of vomiting, it is vital that you try to return to perusing the pornography.

PHILIP. I’m not surprised. One does not want to have anything bordering on a spiritual experience with American tourists in close proximity.

SYLVIA. And every second word is `gay’. Gay this and gay that. ‘You’re so gay, it’s so gay, they’re so gay. Everything’s gay.’ So there’s this one kid and she kind of looks a bit less scary than the rest of them and she’s sitting right next to me because she has nowhere else to sit, I mean, the bus is com­pletely full and I just turn around and trying not to sound like her English teacher I say, ‘Excuse me’…

OLIVER. Excuse me, miss.

SYLVIA. ‘Excuse me, miss, but what exactly does that word mean? I mean, when you use it in that context. Like “That is such a gay song”. When you say “That is such a gay song” what exactly does that mean?’

OLIVER. And she says…

SYLVIA. She says it means ‘shit’. It means it’s shit. The word `gay’ is another word for saying ‘shit’.

The future beckons. I can not live here any more. We have reached the end of this par­ticular road. Change is coming. I cannot blame you for what you have been. You have been the prisoner of fear. You have only known how to hold onto things and the things you have held onto have died in your hands. Dead ravens in your hands. Life will continue. It will not be easy. Things might get worse before they get better. But there is nothing left to lose.

The birth pangs will be the pains of you trying to hang onto the way things are. And all I can do is whisper from a dis­tance: it will be all right, it will be all right, it will be all right.


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From → Drama, Sexuality

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