“People forget what it was like back then. Our rights were hard won and they can be sharp taken away. People would do well to remember that “.
SO says one of the two characters in these two tightly written monologues about gay life in Ireland in the 1970s and 80s.
In Moira’s story a lesbian civil servant is ‘outed’ in her Government department by an anonymous hater. In Mark’s story – we see the lack of rights of gay men in that period – specifically when their so-called “special friend” dies.
These are unknown and unseen stories about the small differences LGBT+ people make towards the bigger desire for recognition, equality and fair treatment.
Acting Out is a Dublin-based company that seeks to find those real-life stories and dramatise them.
As Moira, Lesley Ann Reilly gets to the heart of the problem in 70’s Ireland; lesbians were by and large invisible and indeed thought not to exist. In this case Moira and her girlfriend Karen move in with two gay men and to the outside world they are two happy straight couples. Moira’s tells us; “There was mass emigration of gays from Ireland to England. I didn’t want to leave so I acted straight.”
Up for promotion to a senior job, her lesbianism wouldn’t get her the sack, but she certainly wouldn’t advance in her career. For her partner Karen, the situation is much more dangerous. As an ex-nun and now a primary teacher, she faces the sack if the truth is revealed.
And then the anonymous hate mail starts to arrive internally on Moira’s desk. “Lesbians shouldn’t be taking men’s jobs,” says the second of three notes.
In the end Moira takes action. She puts a photo of her girlfriend on her desk and when a third hate note arrives, she posts a public message on the staff noticeboard. Her senior management support her and warn against bullying and intimidation.
She is promoted and years later retires as a very senior civil servant. Equally Karen becomes a professor and gay rights campaigner. And finally at the age of 73 Moira is able to marry her.
Lesley Ann is wonderfully buoyant, but angry, determined, and tearful too.
Howard Lodge is Mark, a camp, funny, lovely man with terrific one-liners, has a harder hill to climb. In the progressive gay lifestyle that is 1980s Soho, life seems good. When he meets Eamonn, it seems a perfect situation.
A sudden inheritance leads to the two going back to Ireland to set up Ireland’s first gay Bed and Breakfast.
This is also a story about hatred – that of Eamon’s family towards the couple, when the local community and parish priest are in fact very supportive. When Eamon dies of AIDS the nightmare is just beginning. Thrown out into the street and not invited to his partner’s funeral, Howard as the not to be cowed Northerner Mark stands up and defiantly delivers an impromptu funeral eulogy that unites the small community.
Ultimately he marries the ex-priest Father Pat.
So both stories have a happy ending, celebrating the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. Would that all such stories were like that.
The show, written, directed and produced by Sean Denver, runs at Junkyard Dogs at the Brighthelm Centre, North Road as part of the Brighton Fringe till May 18, then tours to Prague, London and Manchester.
To book tickets online, click here:
Review by Brian Butler