By Darby Turnbull
There’s a certain class of gay male character that gets trotted out in indie queer theatre; young, white, university educated (usually BA in Arts), economically privileged or adjacent to social privilege exploring their growing disaffection with online hook ups, club culture and the general melee of being queer in the 21st Century. Such men are usually the subjects of navel gazing one-man shows. One man shows that invariably end up being performed at the Butterfly Club.
Perhaps I’ve seen too many of them. However, before I continue with my reflections of Darling Boy, written and performed by Rupert Bevan, it’s only fair to point out that its season at the Butterfly Club is sold out and has been highly praised elsewhere. Your enjoyment of this piece will greatly depend on your ability to be patient with this character. I confess, it was beyond me. Without wishing to invalidate the experiences of the character which are real and profound (in theory if not, from my perspective, in practice). I found the character vacuous, gratingly solipsistic and not finding anything in the writing to subvert or build some narrative momentum around these qualities, I struggled to connect with him. Connection being one of the key themes of the text, I’m certainly missing something. Disliking a self-penned solo show, whether it’s biographical or not can often feel tantamount to taking a personal dislike to someone personally. Not exactly a pleasant sensation. There were many members of the audience who were charmed and responded with raucous laughter at his observational jokes about Melbourne nightlife and some of the specifics of being a cis male gay boy. Having your girlfriends treat you like an accessory, being shamed by a hook up when you don’t consent to a kink, going to a gay bar and finding it full of straight people, feeling disconnected and othered from your family because of your queerness. The loneliness and insecurity of being young and queer in a culture where key features being clubbing, drugs, alcohol and sex seemingly available after a few quick message exchanges has been explored and in my experience with more wit, poignancy and nuance than Bevan’s text. Despite being grated by the characters’ relative privilege; no job is ever mentioned and there’s no indication of financial struggle given he’s a student. I’m not for a moment saying someone should suffer more to be worthy of our sympathy or attention but it’s certainly an angle to grip on. I have been known to be engaged and sometimes moved by pieces of theatre that do explore how privileged queerness still comes with deep existential loneliness. SPOILER ALERT The play ends with the character reaching a moment of self-catharsis by having brunch on his own after being stood up by a date and being ok with it. Instead of feeling satisfied by his arc I just kept wondering if Mummy and Daddy, who he’s newly out to, are paying for what is bound to be a pricey bill. I did the maths in my head.
A recent VCA graduate, Bevan is a technically skilled performer with dynamic physicality and an excellent vocal rhythm, though I found myself being more impressed by his proficiency than connecting with the character on an emotional or cognitive level. His strongest moments come when he leans into his characters more overt character flaws, his self-absorption, callousness, and dismissiveness of other people’s experiences. The characters internalised homophobia surfacing in queer spaces and casual misogyny when interacting with one of girlfriend’s own experiences of being harassed in a club. These are threads that had potential for more tangible exploration. Director, Lucy Rosen lets some of those moments sit to create some palpable tension and the piece is certainly crisply paced and staged.
It’s a work I’d be very interested to see revisited or revitalised at another point in the creators’ life/career from a more seasoned perspective, I didn’t feel the organic ingenuity of a defining period of self-discovery nor a more sophisticated reflection on what this age represents. There are some pithy insights into the murky waters of Grindr hookups, having to make your queerness palpable to straight people which usually means diminishing your own feelings. He also explores a potentially deep segue into an unsatisfying reconnection with an early beau and renewing a relationship with his parents as an adult when he’s confronted with their own mortality and loneliness. Though I failed to feel any sense of catharsis at this development. Though all these narrative threads play to Bevan’s strengths as a performer and he and Rosen also make good use of an ensemble of voice overs for him to respond to with flexible and often amusing shifts in mood.
My unresponsiveness and occasional frustration with this piece probably say more about me, I am someone who loathed Call me by your name and had my reservations about Fleabag. Darling Boy could ask for worse company.