In the week Liverpool prepares for its annual Pride festival, Masquerade is a reminder that LGBT+ culture hasn’t always been celebrated quite so loudly and proudly.
First-time playwright Laura Lees (who by day works in the Royal Court’s box office) took inspiration for her story from her uncle’s time as the resident DJ at one of the city’s most famous gay clubs.
In Lees’ Masquerade, an anxious Mike (Jamie Peacock) is struggling with his identity while carefree friend Tony (Adam McCoy) relishes living his life to the full.
An impetuous trip to the titular subterranean club sparks an epiphany of sorts in Mike, but this being the 1980s there’s a shadow on the horizon in the form of the looming HIV/Aids crisis.
Peacock, making his professional stage debut, proves a persuasively likeable narrator in Lees’ tale of love, relationships and being true to yourself.
McCoy meanwhile makes a startling physical transformation in the second half, while Daniel Waterhouse, as barman Stuart, moves beyond the image of a flamboyant and superficial dance-floor diva to bring emotional depth to the role.
Generating storytelling momentum isn’t always easy on the studio’s shallow stage, which allows for minimal movement. Here the production team has worked to create an expanded universe through a soundscape that encompasses street noise and voice-overs.
The first half could take some tightening, while the second lacks nuance at times. But Masquerade is a thought-provoking and promising debut from the Royal Court’s latest homegrown talent.