Forty years on from Bent, renowned playwright Martin Sherman, now celebrating his 80th year, wanted to examine the changing face of the gay community over the course of his lifetime. He came up with this touching intergenerational romance, receiving its UK premiere at the Park Theatre.
American pianist Beau is 60 when he meets Rufus on a gay dating website. Rufus is half his age, but he’s fascinated by Beau’s past and insists on moving in with him and deepening their relationship. The love affair ends, but the emotional connection remains, and through Rufus’ marriage to Harry, Beau begins to realise that not all gay relationships are doomed to failure.
In its exploration of gay history over the last 60 years, Gently Down the Stream brings to mind The Inheritance but Sherman’s play is far more intimate. Through Beau’s revealing monologues, Sherman paints a vivid picture of a life growing up on the fringes of society and Jonathan Hyde’s delicate performance intuitively captures the well of sadness that casts a shadow over Beau’s later years.
Ben Allen’s Rufus is a more difficult character, especially early in the play when he comes across as incredibly juvenile. He matures at a rate of knots however, and along with Harry Lawtey’s Harry, is able to create an inclusive family unit.
Sean Mathias’ fluid direction brings out the playful humour of Sherman’s play, but this is primarily a piece about the importance of understanding where we come from and cementing change. The horrors of Beau’s past need to be remembered and spoken of, but history only has value if we learn and grow from it.