Should Plays Carry a 'Gay Content' Warning?

Mr Bugg Presents finds powerful releveance and resonance in 2017 with a staging of musical 'Miss Nightingale' and its central love story.

“I’m not homophobic but I fail to see how two men kissing on stage counts as entertainment. It's not the sort of thing we wanted to see acted out on on stage and should have been warned.”

This is just one of the openly homophobic comments we faced, from some less enlightened audience members, when touring the UK five times with the original British musical, Miss Nightingale by Matthew Bugg.  Some were more guarded even if the sentiment was the same.

Either way double standards were in play because none of the complainers had an issue with the far more graphic love scenes between a man and a woman in the show. Nor did they feel that on stage 'straight' kisses or sexual content required a warning. 

However, I’m pleased to say the majority of the feedback was extremely positive, full of passion and praise for the show.  Most people got in touch to thank us, sharing their own personal and deeply moving stories. 

But the nasty, rabid beast of prejudice regularly reared its ugly head. As a gay man who grew up in the 80s – those dark days of politically sanctioned homophobic discrimination and media witch hunts – it was sadly all too familar.

Miss Nightingale was created as an artistic reaction to exactly this. It’s a bloody good evening’s entertainment and a rallying call to ‘stand up and be counted’. A reminder that history teaches us that equal rights - for women, for those of differing religions, and homosexuals - should never be taken for granted. They can all too quickly be taken away. And more than ever, right now we need to be vigilant.

Little did we know when we started touring the show back in 2011 just how relevant it would be for 2017. After Brexit, much of the protection against discrimination that LGBT people have enjoyed because of the EU will be in danger. The far right is on the rise across Europe with a platform of repealing or outlawing ‘gay’ (equal) marriage. Then there’s the frankly terrifying, virulently anti-LGBT agenda of the Trump government in the United States.  Now more than ever performance, music, satire and story-telling have become key ways to stand up and RESIST.

Miss Nightingale is produced the Sheffield-based artisan musical theatre company, Mr Bugg Presents.  We decided to present this show because we felt that there were far too few plays or musicals that featured fully-rounded same-sex relationships. We simply could not see these stories being told on stage.

And I’m not talking about token gay characters relegated to a sub-plot. You know the camp, gay best friend, the bitchy queen or the deeply closeted loner who may, if they’re lucky, get a boyfriend but they certainly won’t show any passionate action. A hug and a peck on the cheek maybe, if they’re lucky.

That’s why we decided to tell our story of the love between two men in as truthful, authentic and fun way as we could. We wanted to show the whole wonderful, hot, tricky, fabulous mess that is (gay) relationships.  Spoiler alert: Miss Nightingale features a gay love story and yes, the two men kiss. Passionately. 

And yes, I do actually think that 'counts as entertainment.' 

Miss Nightingale the musical is at The Vaults Theatre, London 30 March - 20 May 2017

(An earlier version of this article was published by Attitude magazine.)

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