They say that London is the theatre capital of the world.
It boasts 241 professional theatre spaces, and over 110,000 seats. There are 135 ‘not for profit’ theatres, 59 commercial and 47 fringe! That’s a lot of spaces in which to tell different stories! So, why is it that stories about black gay men are as rare as ‘hen’s teeth’?
Imagine my excitement when I heard that the Kings Head theatre were staging ‘Boy with Beer’ the first openly black gay play in the UK by Paul Boakye!
Twenty-five years after its London debut ,‘Boy with Beer’ remains a pertinent and articulate insight into contemporary black male sexuality.
The sexually charged drama sees upwardly mobile gay photographer, Karl, having trouble uncovering the finer feelings of coarse, young raver, Donovan, who is initially only after a quick fumble under the sheets without his girlfriend finding out.
What ensues is the story of a relationship taking its first steps on the rocky road to love.
Playwright Paul Boakye, is clearly a talent. The former editor, sexual health promotion specialist, and social media entrepreneur has written for theatre, radio, film, academia, and magazines. Author of five plays including ‘Darker Than Blue‘ and ‘Safe‘, his debut ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ took the UK Student Play script Award, and his follow up play ‘Hair’ received the BBC Radio Drama prize.
Paul wrote ‘Boy with Beer’ after going to see a play which had a badly written black character. His friend turned and whispered “even you could write a better play”. He took up the challenge, and immediately started writing ‘Boy with Beer’ as soon as he got home!
I asked him if the play was autobiographical, and was told that it was more “a collection of different experiences heard from different people”. I probed further, and asked him his view on the gay scene, now, compared to when he wrote the play. He paused for a moment, then said:
“the gay scene has changed out of all recognition over the years. Drugs and readily available sex via apps, and the internet, has made it possible for gay men to not have to engage with each other in a conscious way. Back in the day most gay men went to bars, and chatted before deciding whether to jump into bed. Now, the sex comes first, and the chatting after, if at all”.
Paul has been back in London for six months, after living and working in Ghana for five years.
It was while he was there that he was contacted by hot new theatre director (and one to watch) Harry Mackrill, who after reading the play spent weeks tracking him down to get permission to stage a 25th Anniversary of the play.
As well as re-acclimatising to life in the ‘smoke’, Paul tells me that he is currently writing a book about his life, plus, a five-part series for BBC Radio 4 to be aired next year.
I asked him who his favourite writers are and who inspired him? He cites the writers Leroy James, and David Mamet but primarily James Baldwin, whose books and plays, he said, “opened-up a world of black men loving each other and wanting to connect with each other”.
I closed the interview by asking him what advice he would give to Blackout UK readers who wanted to write? “Do it! Just do it!” He said passionately! “Keep a diary, and get into the habit of writing something every day!”
So, now you know what to do, no more excuses! Maybe one day, we’ll see one of your plays performed at one of London’s many theatres.
‘BOY WITH BEER’- 8th-26th November 2016
Kings Head Theatre
115 Upper Street
London N1 1QN
Tel- 020 7226 4443
Book tickets here
Troy doesn’t have a recent thumbnail because:
A) He’s wanted in seven states
B) He looks like Quasi-modo
C) He’s shy
D) He’s an aspiring writer who prefers to be invisible so that he can people watch
. . . One of these is true