SPOTLIGHT ON Sean Denyer – Acting Out queer stories

Brian Butler April 30, 2022

Sean Denyer has always been one of life’s jugglers – combining as he does a career as a senior public health official with being the co-founder of a pioneering Irish queer community-based theatre company Acting Out.

He describes his childhood as “a tale of two halves”. He told me: “I was in every play at primary school, thanks to a very good teacher. Age 8 or 9 I wrote plays for my classmates but at secondary school there was no focus for me: it was very poor at the performance arts, so I was still interested but my involvement fizzled out”.

Sean Denyer

At college he studied medicine, and later as a junior doctor he was keen to watch shows. Fast forward to Sligo in Ireland where he and his husband set up a drama group. With two weeks to go to a production someone dropped out and Sean was thrust into it.

”We formed a sort of gay drama group in Sligo but I was half the time in Dublin. The group was looking for a suitable play and they couldn’t find one, so I decided I’d have a go at writing one”. Having got the bug, he and husband Howard decided there needed to be an LGBTQ+ group so Acting Out was formed – some 15 year ago. And the group became two: a community theatre with workshops, and a performing company. By this time Sean had become Director of Public Health in Dublin.

Best Served Cold

“We were an ensemble group, wanting to do ambitious stuff- full-length plays”. Their first production was entered into a gay theatre festival in Dublin and won an award. “I thought: ‘I can do this’”. While Howard ran the workshop, Sean concentrated on writing and producing with the theatre company. “We’ve always done plays not seen here or new work. It’s been a significant part of my life, really. We started taking stuff elsewhere – particularly Brighton and Prague”.

The group now tours Ireland: “We go to little places, giving people their first opportunity to see queer theatre”, and they’ve rightly acquired a reputation for pioneering work.

Their forthcoming  show – the third to come to Brighton Fringe – is called Best Served Cold. Sean admits it’s difficult to define in terms of its genre: “Is it a thriller, a psycho drama or a dark queer comedy? I’m not sure what the audience will think or feel – some of it is very disturbing. When we showed it last year in Dublin as a workshop the straights found it disturbing and the gays found it hilarious.”

Without revealing too much, it’s about masculinity in the queer world, with none of the characters being likeable. It’s also about revenge in the gay community-  hence the title Best Served Cold – and about denial of a person’s sexuality and about a joke that escalates to a totally different level, and finally, Sean tells me, it’s about the authenticity of the self. Quite a heady menu.

Asked the current thorny question of whether queer characters should always be played by queer actors, Sean is clear: “A good actor can inhabit any character, but there’s an extra dimension if it’s a queer actor because they’ve lived that life. That said, I’ve never asked any auditionee their sexuality. I tend to know.”

Asked what advice he’d give to a young Sean, he said: “Don’t be afraid – I was afraid. It was hard really and people can’t imagine it now. Then I couldn’t imagine being gay and being happy. I had no role models. Be your authentic self, I’d tell the young Sean.”

You can catch Best Served Cold at Brighton Fringe from May 26-9 at the Round Georges in Kemptown. Tickets HERE

Look out for previews and reviews of a wide range of Brighton Fringe shows in Scene.