Manchester’s Pride Festival kicked off on 17 August, bringing a programme of drama, dance, art and of course the Pride parade itself to Manchester in the coming days. In keeping wih the developing Fringe scene in Manchester, this year there seems to be even more events to engage and amuse over the course of the Pride festival and this is kicking off with The Secret Diaries of a Teenage Queer.
Secret Diaries is part-drama, part-monologue and based on a true story. Hayley, our lead, looks back over her teenage years in the form of a diary she once kept. Within its pages are loves lost and won, feelings and thoughts as vibrant as the writing on the page. Parts of this diary come alive as we are told the funny, but also tragic story of her coming out.
The confusion and angst of teenage years is expertly played by Sarah Emmott as Hayley. Her character comments that “gay was something other people were – not on my doorstep” and heartbreakingly portrays the angst Hayley feels as a teenager – nevermind with the complexity of not knowing who she is on top of this.
Indeed, what works particularly well is Hayley’s exploration of whether she is actually gay, or whether she just hasn’t met the right guy yet. A traumatic first sexual experience that she blocks out of her mind doesn’t help and her relationship with the amiable Kevin creates more whispers than anything. Meanwhile, Hayley’s true love lies with another classmate, Isabelle. But when Kevin cheats on Hayley – is it the final indiginity, or simply Hayey realising who she is?
A multi-layered piece of writing by Sarah Evans refuses to give us all the answers yet guides us through the landmines of youth. Indeed, without spoiling it, there are some neat turnarounds in character situations concerning freedom, and responsiblity that are particularly strong and effective within the story.
Jennifer Jordan O’Neill gives a strong performances as the equally irritating and astonishing Deb. Her common, brash Vicky Pollard-esque portrayal shifting to a vicious and unforgiving character in the second half of the play in some very dark scenes. Michael Forrest as Hayley’s dad also puts in a solid performance. His difficulties in dealing with Hayley’s teenage years is raw and stinging, but an obvious love and affection between him and Hayley shows through in present-day scenes.
There are a number of technical flourishes worth mentioning – the passage of time is neatly marked by recurring Christmas songs – as opposed to the relentless quoting of dates. The soundtrack to Secret Diaries is almost a love letter to the 80’s – whilst this is a rich time to set the piece in, it is also just as frightening to reflect on the homophobic attitudes considering this is only a few decades ago. Whilst equally showing how far society has come, it also sadly makes you reflect on how far there still is to go.
The Secret Diaries of a Teenage Queer is a surprisingly powerful piece with some extraordinary moments towards its conclusion. At its heart, it is a remarkable coming of age story that many of the audience I’m sure can relate to, but also manages to provide some social commentary on attitudes towards homosexuality without being in your face and ramming the point home. At this point still a development piece, it does need some further work to tighten it up and polish certain elements of the script. However, it would be worth checking out for the intensity of the climatic scenes alone which are sure to resonate with many.
The Fiction Stroker gives The Secret Diaries of a Teenage Queer three strokes out of five:
The Secret Diaries of a Teenager Queer will return in February as part of Contact Theatre’s “Queer Contact” season to celebrate LGBT History Month. Meanwhile, Sarah Evans other recent play Forever 27 is on at the Lass O’Gowrie on 20 August as part of Pride Fringe.