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Outlaws to In-laws review King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘an ambitious project’

Michael Duke and Myles Devonte in Outlaws to In-laws at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Paul Dyke Michael Duke and Myles Devonte in Outlaws to In-laws at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Paul Dyke
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Seven short plays by writers including Jonathan Harvey chart the turbulent trip down the aisle for gay men in the UK. Spanning seven decades, Outlaws to In-laws is a potted history of the cost of the political and social obstacles on the way to equal rights and gay marriage.

Part of the King’s Head’s Queer Festival, this ambitious production is a whistle-stop tour that takes in the Coronation, sexuality and race, the Tory Party, HIV/Aids and online dating. Packed into a lean two hours, several of the plays clunk hard as they struggle to make their characters more than on-the-nose emblems.

Those with more time to breathe fare best. Jonathan Kemp’s 1970s-set Reward, explores the growing relationship between white skinhead Spike (Jack Bence) and bookish young black man Donald (Michael Duke). Boosted by strong performances, it’s a nicely observed, affecting character study in an economically bleak landscape shadowed by racism.

Elsewhere, Matt Harris’ inventively surreal Princess Die dives into drag queen Shane’s comedown after learning his boyfriend is HIV+ on the night his idol, Princess Diana, dies. Alex Marlow’s bewilderment as Elliot Balchin’s Calvin Klein mannequin comes to life on his sofa is well pitched for this astringent farce.

Mary Franklin’s staging shifts nicely between plays, although it’s hampered by issues with audibility. But even through this production’s clumsier moments, the joyful message as Robin and Zak pop open the poppers and decide to live married life their way in Joshua Val Martin’s The Last Gay Play is loud and clear.

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Patchily entertaining short plays about the journey to equal rights and gay marriage in the UK