Written by Robert Holtom, directed by Tom Wright and performed at the Network Theatre, Dumbledore Is So Gay is most definitely an enjoyable play, but there remain some key areas that need to be reworked.
My first issue with the text is its lack of incorporation of Harry Potter (HP) material. One would imagine, especially with the name of a key character of the series, Albus Dumbledore, making its way into the very title of the play, that HP-related material would be a hallmark of and inseparable from this performance; this is, most strangely, not the case. Whilst references are made semi-consistently to HP characters, the Wizarding World and the overall franchise, there is very little to truly concretise these as crucial to the narrative. However, when least expected, Rowling’s idea of the Time Turner suddenly becomes a key storytelling tool to recall/rework plot, and we find the franchise playing a crucial role in constituting the play’s structure and events. Yet, once the Time Turner has done its part, HP takes a backseat once again… This imbalance of HP-related material and non-HP-related material makes for a peculiar and unstable reading of the text. HP-related content is not worked into the text in such a way that it complements or progresses narrative and plot but, instead, is used on the sideline for comedic effect, and this is most unseemly. I would recommend either working this better into this text or scrapping it completely. To replace the Time Turner with a simple "If only I could do it all over again" would have the exact same outcome here; nothing would be affected, and this is definitely an issue. The story should function in such a way where it would not be able to progress without these items.
Jack’s (Alex Britt) being a Hufflepuff is something I find to have promise, however. Within the HP fandom, being a Hufflepuff is a rather plain and second-rate ascribable identity, remaining stigmatised and oft-denigrated, and it is something that Jack initially presents himself as awkward about, shy of, ashamed of, etc. Yet, by the end of the play, he is assuming his identity as a Hufflepuff boldly and proudly, despite its connotations amongst other HP fans, and this serves as a good pop culture analogy for people assuming their identities as homosexual or queer, one which promotes self-empowerment despite social prejudices seemingly out of one’s control. This is definitely a feature of this performance but still remains a very minor item. I think this play would benefit, if it were to continue to promote reliance upon these HP references, from utilising more features like this and concretising them as vital aspects/messages of the text. The same can be said of Jack’s focus on Dumbledore as the only gay character who then also ends up dead, an example of lack of representation in mainstream entertainment. This is something touched upon by the text but made to be fleeting, insignificant.
On to acting. The actors are each very engaging and perform with high energy and vigour, yet there are still other, more basic practices that they need to be conscious to implement, such as holding for audience laughter –– a notable and recurrent issue –– or coming out of character to smile or laugh to themselves, this latter being most particular to Britt. Charlotte Dowding (playing Gemma and others) definitely proves herself to be quite a versatile actress, assuming her various roles with refinement and articulacy, and I particularly favour –– as did the majority of audience members, so it seemed –– the scene wherein she plays both Gemma and Jack’s mother at the same time. This play certainly allows for a humorous self-referentiality where multi-roling is concerned, drawing deliberate metatheatrical attention to the technique, and this is most fruitful and comedic. On the other hand, Max Percy (playing Olly and others) struggles at times with his transformativity, his characterisations sometimes blending into one another, but when his characters are more refined, they are most certainly credible and absorbing. Britt remains consistently engaging and endearing throughout but could benefit from slightly more zest and emotional specificity in places.
I would like to have seen more emotion from the actors who present very caricaturised characters, making the more serious scenes, and their severity, awkward or difficult to read. However, this is just as much an editorial/directorial issue, with comedy and fast pace being fundamental to the dramatic text, and with serious and hard-hitting content such as suicide or vitriolage being [sometimes improperly] skimmed over. On the topic of writing, I will note that I was most pleased that there were variations with each repetition of the story, besides the radical changes in plot. However, it irks me –– once again –– that homosexuality and its resulting experiences are synonymous with suffering, pain and shame and the overcoming of these. Whilst there are certainly very heartwarming moments in this play, particularly where shame and prejudices are rejected, there remains a sense of bleakness. The focus on shame becomes rather condemning at times, particularly through the representation of lascivious behaviour, and content remains somewhat unoriginal and unimaginative, despite its seemingly unique premise. However, comedy is certainly the strongpoint of this text, both in the traditional sense, which provides us with a sense of resolution and catharsis, and in relation to wit and humour. This is certainly an uplifting play, overall, especially with its loveable, if rather unexceptional and caricatured, characters.
As for the aesthetics, the wooden block stools and bench make for a clean, versatile and dimensional playing area, yet I find the metal netting to be a strange aesthetic decision. As for lighting (designed by Rory Heaton), there remain far too many cues, making for complicated visuals which oftentimes drown the stage with one coloured wash after another. A most rudimentary design.