After a sold out run at VAULT Festival 2020, Robert Holtom’s comedy that explores what it means to be gay returns at the Pleasance Theatre’s main house cabaret. Directed by Tom Wright and produced by Hannah Elsy Productions, the show is a nostalgic hug to coming of age, coming out, and growing up with Harry Potter. For Holtom, the story comes from a deeply personal place, inspired by real-life incidents that shaped their childhood. Recounting the script’s development process from early 2019 until its first run in February 2020, Holtom believes it serves as a testimony to the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community.
The story centres around the growing up years of Jack, a young boy whose fascination with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is perhaps exceeded only by his infatuation with his best friend Ollie. Adolescence is a confusing time as Jack attempts to discover and accept his sexuality. His struggle to come out to his parents and best friends is interspersed with a never-ending onslaught of bullying and homophobic remarks by others in high school, making him feel isolated and small. His only refuge in this confusing mess of emotions and identities is the magical wizarding world where he looks upto Dumbledore, the only gay character in the books. As he wades through secret confessions, confusing ideas, stolen kisses and regrettable choices, Jack relies on his trusty Time Turner to do things over in an attempt to get them right. However, it isn’t as easy as it looks because time can heal most things, but not all.
The show is led by the original ensemble of performers consisting of Alex Britt, Charlotte Dowding and Max Percy. Britt’s portrayal of Jack is heartwarmingly honest, bringing out the deep-seated anxieties of coming to terms with his sexuality (and the fallouts that accompany it) by building (and eventually tearing down) walls around himself that seek to cloak his true feelings. Charlotte Dowding plays a multitude of characters, such as Jack’s mother and his best friend Gemma, with wonderful conviction and aplomb. Max Percy’s energetic presence and great comedic timing completes the ensemble by essaying characters like Jack’s best friend Ollie, his father and short-lived lovers. Together, the three performers weave a swiftly moving story with different scenes and settings, with Rachael Nanyonjo’s movement direction underscoring their transitions and body language. Natalie Johnson’s minimal set design consisting of moving boxes give a fluid quality to the action and is complemented by a deftly executed light design by Rory Beaton. Peter Wilson’s sound design adds a lot of personality to the three-act structure of Holtom’s script with a precise use of narrative scores and quirky sound effects. Wright’s direction is dynamic and sharply paced, wringing out the innate humor of the text through delicately manufactured moments on stage that allow us to build a personal camaraderie with the characters. Holtom’s sharp-witted writing is the biggest stand out, taking us down memory lane with cleverly interspersed Potter references (and a tongue-in-cheek nod to J.K. Rowling’s run-ins with the trans community) that sit well within the show’s larger narrative arc.
To summarize, Dumbledore Is So Gay is an endearingly charming show, whose humorous exploration of queer identity and self-love makes you think about the support systems and mechanisms we yearn for whilst growing up.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 22nd September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★