Interview with David Kerby-Kendall

Interview with David Kerby-Kendall

To celebrate Pride this month we’ll be launching our latest production Gay Pride And No Prejudice which opens at the Union Theatre in Southwark on 8th October this year.  We caught up with writer David Kerby-Kendall to discuss his new play and his thoughts on Pride 2024.

What inspired you to write Gay Pride And No Prejudice? 

Initially, it came about through chance. I was adapting Pride And Prejudice for a theatre company and, when they called to find out how the script was going, for a giggle, I told them that I had changed the story and that Darcy and Bingley ended up together and that the title was now Gay Pride And No Prejudice. I mentioned this to a couple of director-friends who immediately said, ‘You HAVE to write this’! It was then that I realised how much I actually WANTED to write it; to set it in Austen’s time and in something resembling Austen’s language, when prejudices were almost understated and simply accepted as ‘the norm’. Religion and politics were revered and very few people questioned the blinkered and restraining societal rules that a few human beings had laid down in order to constrain the majority and block their thoughts and freedoms. Set in this gentle Austen-like way, it actually magnifies the two elements I wanted to highlight: suppressed sexuality and women’s rights.

Tell us about some of the themes of the piece and how they are relevant today?

The two main themes are freedom of sexuality and women’s equality. Lots of other themes branch off from this: religion, acceptance of fate, politics, a man’s word being sacrosanct, a ‘gentile’ society simply accepting that Love between two men is ‘different’ from other Love and punishable by death. I also wanted to find out what would happen when some people didn’t fit the stereotype (Mr Bennet, for instance, has very liberal views and accepts everyone for who they are) and when others were actually forced through a change in their own circumstances to question and reassess what they originally believed and so discover new facets to their character. And, of course, this isn’t limited to the early 19th century. Today, some of that blind acceptance has been replaced by a polarised society; one where the radical 5% at either end of the spectrum shout hatred and intolerance and the 90% of us fair-minded people in the middle are drowned out. But change HAS occurred. In the play, I’ve mentioned many things that Elizabeth Bennet (as the women’s rights campaigner) is dreaming of for the future (a lady in parliament, husband’s taking their wife’s surname) and a modern-day audience can, I hope, rejoice in the fact that these dreams have become reality.

How do you feel attitudes have changed and where do you feel there is more work to be done? 

In certain parts of the world there has been a sea-change recently. Countries who held very traditional views, either based on religion or simply a refusal to look at why these oppressive rules were made in the first place, have become tolerant and, often, supportive of people’s rights. Many still say ‘this is how it has always been, therefore it must be right’. But I would point out that, in Greek times, it was not only ‘normal’ to be gay, it was even encouraged. Young guys would fight much harder for their lover than a ordinary comrade. And what about Boudica, Cleopatra, Hatshepsut; all strong female leaders from antiquity, all of whom were respected and revered by their followers (of any gender) and also by their enemies. But, in the grand scheme of things, this newly-found rush to equality is very recent. I wish I had been an adult in 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised. What a beautiful, overwhelming sense of relief and freedom must have flooded the gay community. What tears of relief and happiness were shed at the eradication of this vulgar unfairness. And, decades later, countries who had always been steeped in conventionality; countries such as Ireland and New Zealand, became some of the first to champion gay marriage or, what I would rather call it, marriage; for marriage is a bond between two human beings and ‘labels’ are not necessary. And, going back to female leaders or, more extensively, leaders who are not men, we see equality now beginning to pervade politics, business, the arts; all aspects of life. Still some way to go, but a reason to celebrate the colossal gains. As for what should be done to make this world a fairer place; two mains things spring to mind: one is that if those who wish to still suppress women and gay men could look at the reasons why they feel this way; to really search deeply for the reasons from their own view of humanity, rather than the reasons they have been TOLD to consider, they may come to the conclusion that a human being is a human being and doesn’t need to be defined by labels. I think that much of society’s prejudices are based on fear of the unknown. We must mingle; show each other that there is NOTHING to fear. I was in a pub on a holiday with my then partner a few years back. We decided to play pool. I could hear a couple of the locals saying ‘oh, the poofs are going to play pool’. So we played, and they were astounded that we were getting a lot of balls in the pockets (Matron!). But this also made them become defensive (gays, after all, aren’t supposed to be good at pool). They postured and started talking about sport. One said, ‘Who won the FA Cup in 1969, Bazza’? So followed 30 seconds of ‘Come on Bazza, YOU know this’. I waited till there was a pause and said, ‘It was Manchester City; they beat Leicester 1-0’. Within a few minutes we were playing pool with them and even ended the night with a few hugs. They had actually got to know two gay men who, incredibly, turned out to be just like them. Mix, talk, get to know each other; and this dilutes the fear and eradicates the prejudice.

Pride is now over 50 years old.  How have you seen it develop over the years? 

I don’t remember the first Pride marches, but I’ve seen the footage. The big change. of course, is in numbers. A handful of gay men 50 years ago, over a million people made up of gay people, straight people, just ‘people’ now. But what has remained a constant is the sheer joy and elation of everyone involved in the parade and the celebrations as a whole. The happiness is contagious; it’s an invisible, but unbreakable energy between people. If you could expand Gay Pride into the rest of the world, there would be no wars. I suppose, over the years it has transformed from a march for equality and recognition to a celebration of getting gradually closer to that goal. And now it’s a flag-bearer for humanity. Teenagers to Grandparents, bathed in colour, talking, singing, dancing together, celebrating each other but still conscious of the need to keep the world aware that this cannot happen in all countries.

What is important to you about Pride month and how will you be celebrating? 

Pride month is a celebration of equality, bizarrely, not just for sexuality but it’s also the flag-bearer for equality in ALL areas of life. What the world sees is a MASSIVE number of people enjoying life, without judgement, without barriers. And, of course, in an environment which is mostly safe for anyone to express themselves, to also remember that hundreds of thousands of gay people all over the world have yet to experience this freedom. We MUST not forget them. Having missed the main march for the last few years because I work in arts and therefore don’t know what a ‘weekend’ is, I have deliberately taken the day off. I’m going to meet up with friends in Soho, try to talk like a grown up after a couple of vodkas (all I can manage nowadays – I have the alcohol tolerance of a teetotal vole) and hug and chat to strangers. There is so much hatred and tragedy in this world, but we mustn’t feel guilty about occasionally enjoying ourselves and feeling happy. Happiness is like yawning; it’s contagious. And it needs spreading.

Based on what you’ve talked about today, what would you like audiences to take away from your play?

I’d like anyone who sees the play to transport themselves back to 1812 and step into the shoes of Darcy, Bingley, Jane, Elizabeth and Mr & Mrs Bennet, seeing the world through their eyes; the prejudices as well as the pride in their dreams of equality. And I’d like them to follow their journeys, to experience with them the discovery of new aspects of their characters as they are exposed to new thoughts and ideas. And, of course, to will them to win against the odds, for two men and one woman to beat the laws laid down by the few to suppress the many. And, also, to have a good giggle on the way (there’s a lot of humour in the play). Ultimately, I suppose, to realise how much we have to celebrate in this far enlightened era.

Can you tell us about any other plays you’re working on?

I’m currently writing three scripts. I’m in the first stages of writing a TV series based on Gay Pride And No Prejudice; I’m also writing a play called Dancing In Time, about an unexpected relationship in prison between a straight autistic guy and a younger, ADHD gay guy; how from hating each other, they inadvertently become each other’s therapists and significant other. And, finally, I’m doing rewrites on my play, The Best Days Of My Life, a play that tries to ‘describe’ depression. It concerns Michael in middle age and in his early 20s, looking back on the pivotal moments of his life and how, with bravery and humour, he fights an exhausting battle with, as he calls it, ‘The Shadow’. I’ve written the play to help people (and especially guys) to open up about their mental health and to know that they are not alone. We staged a two-week try-out and I was humbled by the number of people who came up to me afterwards (I played the older version of Michael) and told me that the play had made them understand depression. If it helps one person, we’ve succeeded. It’s the same as sexuality and equality, there is still suffering, but there is also huge hope when we all join together.

We’d like to thank David for taking time to share his thoughts.  You can catch his play Gay Pride And No Prejudice at the Union Theatre between 8th October and 2nd November. 

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