I’d heard a lot of good things about Tory Boyz before I went to see it last night and I can’t deny it is a good play. The acting and the performance (including some very cleverly choreographed scene changes) were particularly impressive and the funny well-written script was performed well by the National Youth Theatre.
The Play is essentially about a young Tory researcher, Sam, quietly gay. It links his struggle to express his sexuality with Ted Heath and the recently re-asked question, “have we already had our first gay prime minister?” – to succeed it’s necessary to suppress ones sexuality.
But it is difficult to connect with any of the play’s characters. It didn’t make me feel emotion for any of the characters – I neither despised nor particularly felt for any of them. I was neither repulsed by their views on politics or sexuality nor inspired by them. And, on the face of it, there were elements of the play that could have been wholly erased with little consequence allowing more time for the titled subject matter (there were far fewer of the Tory boyz than I expected).
Following the play I decided to look up a couple of reviews and articles. The play was developed after the director of the National Youth Theatre asked playwright James Graham to write a play about Ted Heath. This goes some way to explaining the large cast and multiple story-line strands which – I imagine – a play not in this context may trim. The play is also seen as quite an accurate portrayal of the way parliamentary offices work. Like Michael Billington in the Guardian, however, I’m not sure I agree with the premise – the need to hide sexuality to succeed in politics.
Perhaps I’m to blame for the faults I found. I was expecting something which confirms my perception of gay Tories, from the ones I’ve met. And they’re not quite as quietly contemplative as Sam. A play specifically about gay boyz in the Tory party would have been quite different to this if it was based in reality. As I imagine it would in any political party. But this wasn’t the premise of the play.
Right-wing sympathising theatre is rare. I think I was expecting something which showed the spectrum of gay Tories as I know them, reaffirming my opinions of the lines in the play that “If it is wrong, I can guarantee that somewhere there is a Tory doing it . . .” – but it didn’t. And while Sam’s explanation of why a working class, northern gay man can be Tory is eloquent and thoughtful it didn’t make me sympathise with him any more. But maybe that was the point. Maybe the fact that it didn’t conform to my expectations and prejudices is exactly what the play’s all about. In an interview with the Pink Paper, playwright James Graham said:
‘When I was commissioned to write the play, everyone assumed that it would be a satire. I’m from an ex-mining town near Manchester. I saw my community dismantled in the early 1990s, but I still came to this play with an open mind. Everyone assumed that I would draw the conclusion in the play that the part hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Actually, it’s more interesting than that. It’s boring to just bash the Tories, that’s been done. It’s far more interesting to challenge the liberal perception of conservatives.’
…and, while, from my experience I’m not sure my liberal perceptions are as unfounded as Tory Boyz would suggest, I’d expected to be more enraged, but maybe that means Graham succeeded. Maybe somewhere in my mind it did challenge my liberal perceptions.