Brighton Fringe

REVIEW: ‘Locusts’ at Lantern Theatre, Brighton

Brian Butler June 16, 2024

Pete has a silver tongue, and he is quietly and warmly welcoming as we take our seats.

 The long-standing charismatic pastor greets us to his church – what he calls his “family”. It’s a plausibly pleasant beginning to a sinister tale that will unfold over the next hour.

 And beneath that feeling of family, lies what many of us would call the ‘evil’ of conversion therapy.

Locusts, by Ian Tucker-Bell and Garth McLean, is about the love of two men for each other and a deep dark secret in one of their pasts that re-surfaces. 

It’s six years since Jeff and Stephen met at the Yorkshire sculpture park, marvelling at what seems to be a giant rabbit. Jeff is an American living in Sheffield and Stephen is a local. They hit it off immediately and become partners.

Fast forward six years and Jeff has to fly back home alone to New York to see his father on his deathbed. 

Meanwhile Stephen, played with pained understatement by Tucker-Bell, has been getting phone calls that he doesn’t answer – till he does,

It’s Pete, the “hot pastor” as Jeff calls him, never having met him. And we soon learn the devastating effect the pastor and his church had 30 years ago on a highly vulnerable 17-year-old Stephen. 

But lest we go down the wrong track, this is not a case of physical/sexual abuse – no, it’s far more insidious than that. Pete is determined to save Stephen’s soul for God, to “cure him” of his gayness.

And worn down by the pressure, Stephen eventually lies and says he’s been “cured.” 

That 30-year-old lie has now come home to roost as the pastor asks Stephen to convert Pete’s daughter, who’s left her husband for another woman.

I tell you all that plot so you can see this 60-minute drama has a hell of a lot going on, centring on this conflicting and controversial subject matter. 

It’s a totally honest and gripping story- all the more so as it’s partly based on Tucker-Bell’s own experiences. His quietness and vulnerability make this story all the more shocking, Pierse Stevens, as Jeff, is robust, plain-speaking and clearly devoted to Stephen. Their chemistry onstage is real and touching. 

Nick Blessley’s oily, insinuating and dangerous Pete is worryingly attractive. Cathy Treble is a strong support as Sian, Stephen’s best friend, and Phil Holden directs tightly so the action never flags. 

And there’s one moment of outstanding comedy in this dark piece. The conversion therapists have a theory that a dominant mother and quiet father lead to gay sons. As Sian says: “if that was true, every Yorkshireman would be gay”.

Locusts was staged by Orange Works at The Lantern Theatre as part of Brighton Fringe.