Brighton Year-Round 2019
Ben SantaMaria writes and directs Really Want to Hurt Me. The Marlborough team supply lighting and the space has minimal props and no set. It’s pure storytelling. Further tours dates take in the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham from 18th – 19th October and the tour is finishing at Nottingham Playhouse on the 26th October.
Ben SantaMaria‘s Really Want to Hurt Me shines through a number of fine plays theming LGBTQ coming-of-age in the 1980s: the bleakest time to grow up gay since the war. Everyone’s on the homophobic lookout, everyone’s taking abut AIDS. It’s a solo performance piece featuring original actor Ryan Price, and the Marlborough Theatre Brighton provides a perfect venue and audience.
There’s no distractions to the bare stage bar a few props like a crown and cloak, a sports bag that Tardis-like produces a few unexpected rabbits. But mostly, it’s a simple storytelling affair as Price bops and dives under the bullies.
It’s 1984 in Exeter; Orwell had a point the 14-year-old protagonist Lad feels, Walkman earphones on his ears. He’s a bit distracted, starts telling us about tunnels, strops, rewinds. Over the next two years we see Lad discover how music and theatre literally save his life. For now as he tells us through flinches, it’s the medium hell of the bus, then whether anticipating being hit or being hit is worse. Or the ordeal in the showers. It’s not that Lad doesn’t try to avoid games with a series of fake notes. It’s that PE and other teachers tell him to stop skipping with the girls. Then the girls stop him hanging around them. Lad’s on his own. On the pitch.
There’s Darren with whom he shares Culture Club initially, then other bands, Tears for Fears which unexpectedly as we find out much later, Lad’s sergeant-major father bought him when he was ill in early 1983.
Still, there’s no good looking to his parents either. Mum’s a curious mismatch with a sergeant-major, and eventually gets a media job in London. But she’s hardly more understanding than her husband. They’re all ‘on the other side’.
Darren’s the one to twig after an incident; no more sleepovers. But there’s Tish who says cheerily as he pulls him on top of her ‘Don’t worry. I’ll convert you.’ What we see is at first a periodically suicidal teenager considering the gas oven, later on a bridge.
And then there’s the day he discovers Morrissey. Forget Boy George, when ‘eating meat is murder’ makes him suddenly lose his lunch there’s one of those horrible, gruesomely detailed scenes around the Sunday roast you’ll never forget. Don’t lose yours laughing.
But there’s music. And more, something to being Second then demoted Third Elf in local youth community The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. Sybil the drama teacher has to use Lad as Sylvius in As You Like It. He ends as Orlando.
By this time – and this is SantaMaria’s particular gift – there’s emotional confusion: just as he’s to play Macbeth to Tish’s Banquo, she confesses to her first shag with a beautiful man whom Lad confesses to himself he’d like to shag too. But for the duration of the performance he’s furious, images of 1984 and Tish as Orwell’s Julia faded to something wretched and betrayed.
There’s attractions – to Peregrine, to Kit, and other liberated figures as the Youth Community Theatre and even bigger youth theatre companies come Lad’s way. Sybil, once a pitying critic, now shoves Lad kindly on his way as her star actor.
We end in 1986. It’s an uncertain world, but there’s a map, and it leads as many narratives do, in an escape to London. Unlike others though the story ends as Lad begins.
Ryan’s a compelling and winningly joyous actor by turns. He shimmers adolescence, simmers its furies, managing the transition of boyish innocence to dawning manhood with a flickering, boppy energy. More, he projects a flinch of vulnerability that twists in a moment to defiance and resilience.
This is one of those short plays that expands after seeing it. It’s hilarious and occasionally terrifying. And utterly authentic. Solidly located in the south-west, where other plays like The Milkman’s On His Way also start, it’s a work crossing historical witness with sharp storytelling. And it’s unpredictable enough to compel you to wonder at the residual wisdom that Lad, not the play will bring to his life. A must-see.