In our Stage Two auditorium right now, rehearsals are continuing for Safe, a hard-hitting play about the real-life stories of homeless LGBTQ youth and the challenges they’ve faced. Commissioned as part of our Creative Matters season, it’s being staged here on 28&29 September.
Actor Shaun McKay tells us more about this new production of Safe, and why he thinks it’s so important.
Tell me about the play?
Safe is a verbatim play, so these are the real words of people who were interviewed by Alexis, our director-playwright. It explores the experiences and problems that a lot of LGBT people have to deal with, and it focuses on stories that don’t get told much; you hear a lot about gay stories, but you don’t hear so much about black gay stories, or trans stories, or trans gay stories.
It follows the lives of four young people, exploring what they had to go through, the prejudices they faced from their families and society, and how they dealt with that and came to terms with it. It’s quite a poignant thing, because these are real people’s experiences.
It’s a hard-hitting play – what made you want to be involved?
I have a lot of friends in the LGBT community; being an actor, you get to know a lot of people like that. And so I really related to these themes because a lot of people who I care about might have gone through something like what happens in this play.
It was written with the help of the Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation that provides day-to-day help to LGBT people who might be struggling. I’d never heard of them before this play, and I think that’s true of a lot of people in the LGBT community.
That’s why I think Safe is so important. It’s a chance to get these issues out into the public mind and onto the front page. We want to get people talking about these issues because it’s something that not a lot of people do discuss. It is really under-reported.
It addresses some hard-hitting themes, but it looks like there’s a lot of comedy involved too?
It’s by no means just a downer. Not at all. There are a lot of funny bits and things to make you laugh. In that sense, it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and full of highs and lows.
That’s part of what makes it great, I think. It’s not just one mood all the way through. We cycle through a whole string of different atmospheres and feelings. It’s a very funny play but, at the same time, very moving.
How are rehearsals going so far?
They’ve been great. I always love meeting new people. I think one of my favourite parts of starting a new play is meeting the cast, because you end up making new friends that you’ll stay in contact with once the production is over, at least in my experience.
They’ve been a wonderful cast to work with. Everyone’s really professional and we’re really enjoying working on this. Honestly, it’s been absolutely fantastic; I’ve met some great people and I’m looking forward to working more with them and seeing what else we can find out about this play.
You got your start on the Theatre Royal’s Theatre Arts Course – what’s it like to be back?
It’s wonderful to be back at the Theatre Royal. I’d never actually been in Stage Two before, because that wasn’t here when I was a part of the Arts Courses, but it’s been great to be part of the Theatre Royal again
And of course, coming back to this area and seeing a lot of familiar faces has been great. I’ve had the chance to reconnect with a lot of people who I’ve really missed since I left for uni and drama school so it’s been lovely to see them. It sort of feels like I’m home again!
Tell me about your character?
As I say, Jack is a gay trans man, and he talks in the play about how he’s come to terms with that.
He’s known since the age of four that he didn’t feel comfortable in the body of a woman. And he talks about how he assumed that when he grew up, he’d develop the appropriate body parts – and of course, that doesn’t happen. And then he finds himself getting attracted to men, and it’s very hard for him because his family don’t accept him for who he is.
Even as he’s sitting in the operating theatre about to have a double mastectomy, they’re still referring to him as a ‘she’ and using his birth name, Jennifer. That’s obviously very hard for him to deal with.
But towards the end of the play, he’s talking about how he’s speaking to his father again, because his father has grown as a person and he’s started to accept him for who he is. I think towards the end of the play, Jack becomes much more at home with himself but he’s still got these issues that he’s dealing with. They don’t get wholly resolved but I think he’s a lot happier.
The Theatre Royal’s production of Safe is here on the 28 & 29 September. Buy tickets now at Norwich Theatre Royal.