To love, and be loved. Difficult enough to be there for many of us. Put Gay and Disabled into the mix and it's even trickier. But the yearning is, of course, still there.
I've seen plenty of plays, films (yes Moulin Rouge), books and poems on the theme of searching for love, but none had prepared me for the show at Colchester Arts Centre last night. I should have known it would be something out of the usual, when the flyer said "FAT is the journey of a gay, disabled man in search of his heart's desire. Pete Edwards uses distinctive movement, projected imagery, and spoken text to create a surreal narrative along the banks of the River Thames. Follow his quest to find the fat man, eat some spaghetti and live happily ever after."
The scene is set with an empty performance space, a screen at the back with video images, and a sign language interpreter stage left. The lights go down, there's a pause, and from the shadows appears Pete Edwards, a bald man of about 50, wearing only some very shiny, very short shorts, and a pair of Converse. (I immediately thought of my friend Severine, who wears those shoes.) Oh, and Edwards is in a wheelchair, and he's shuffling himself along, his limbs writhing.
So, what's coming up next I wonder? Will it be some in-your-face diatribe about how he can't use the Tube or get on a bus, because of the step? Oh no, it wasn't disabled specific. It was about isolation, and dreaming, and desire. Themes that touch us all.
As Edwards spoke, his script appeared as sur-text on the screen, above the images of the Thames. The programme explains that Edwards is a drama "workshop facilitator ... for people with differing speech". For the audience the sur-text was essential, as strangers to Edwards' speech could only pick up the odd word. (The sign language person seemed a little superfluous, but maybe I missed the point?)
The play unfolds, as we meet the fat man (only on screen), and they go back to his flat, for spaghetti bolognese and "afters". Now Edwards is completely naked, as we read quotes on screen, from Shakespeare, that are specially relevant to the play character's predicament. Rich fare indeed.
Now I may consider myself a right-on guy, with interest and some personal experience of disability, caring and access issues, and as a follower of gay culture (indeed, some of my friends are heterosexual and able-bodied), but there was much to learn about the HUMAN experience from Edwards' play. A remarkable show.
And for me the most moving images were Pete in front of a projection of a dance club scene, Pete's writhing linked perfectly with the mass of dancing bodies on the dancefloor. Just for a moment we can escape from ourselves.