This Thursday 23rd, I’m chairing It’s Vauxhall Question Time –…
The Clinic is a new play by Patrick Cash. Written with unprecedented access to Soho sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street, it’s shaped by verbatim transcript, creative work and spoken word. It’s showing at the Kings Head Theatre, 24 August-29 August.
David Stuart and Patrick Cash asked me to lunch at Balans one Saturday afternoon. As we unwisely finished off the third bottle of wine at what had become a rather raucous lunch, Patrick asked, ‘Would you like to be in a play I’m writing about Dean Street? Essentially you’ll be playing a character based on David Stuart.’
Even if I hadn’t been cheerily drunk, how could I decline an opportunity to be in a play set in a sexual health clinic?
Aside from the obvious novelty, there were further indications that the show might be a winner. While Patrick had yet to pen the play, his writing had impressed me for some time, as had his bold spoken word night, ‘Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs’.
These events continue to offer a creative platform for the LGBT community to share personal experiences. In essence, Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs evokes consciousness raising happenings of the ‘60s. While inspiration may stem from hippy history, Patrick’s gatherings are a very modern affair, with people riffing on meth binges, sex app addiction and 21st century club culture.
For those who’re in the dark, 56 Dean Street is a bright, sleek and free NHS sexual health clinic based in Soho. Amongst a number of services, they offer full outpatient HIV clinic services, counselling and P.E.P. (treatment taken for 28 days to prevent HIV Infection after exposure).
Styled like a high-end ad agency, rather than a grim ward of shame, Dean Street has revolutionised sexual health care and proved pioneering in its ethos.
It’s never a bundle of laughs going to a sexual health clinic, but any strides to make that experience friendly, convenient and accessible can only be applauded. Not only have they succeeded in this mission, they’ve created the platinum standard of sexual health clinics that’s the envy of the world.
This play was commissioned as part of the Dean Street Wellbeing Programme, a series of entertaining, educational and community engagement events, curated by David Stuart and Leigh Chislett.
When the script for The Clinic arrived, it proved a bracing reality check. Fear crept into my bones as it became clear I’d not really considered the challenges of learning lines or you know, acting.
While it’s true that I’d completed a drama degree in ’93, my sad assessment of that educational venture was that a limited range and a dreadful memory meant that treading the boards was far from a wise career choice. So, I became a DJ, where a lack of memory can be useful and ‘doing lines’ has an entirely different meaning.
I’d conveniently forgotten my theatrical foibles on agreeing to work on The Clinic, but the truth hit like a slap when we started rehearsals.
A two decade hiatus from theatre work had not only heralded an impressive destruction of brain cells, but riddled my shrivelled heart with cynicism.
At our first read-through at the Arcola, the director, Luke Davies questioned the motivations and subtext of each line. We were rehearsing a scene where Damien Killeen played one of my character’s patients, recently diagnosed as HIV positive.
‘But what are you really saying here?’ asked Luke earnestly, from behind his spectacles.
‘Is he fucking serious?’ I asked myself, swirling in a pool of my own cynicism.
It became clear that everyone was treating this production with a level of professionalism and seriousness that was entirely absent from my perspective. The cast and crew were embracing it like BAFTA nominees at the National Theatre. They were Judy Dench to my Danny Dyer.
This meant there two options; join this madness with gusto, or run like the wind before my faithless despair dragged down the entire show.
Kids from fame
Despite my doubts, it was hard not to be swayed by these giddy kids, high on dreams and artistic hope. Their enthusiasm proved contagious and as the script came to life, it was easy to see The Clinic’s potential.
As the show shaped up and we bonded as a team, my outlook changed from, ‘what the fuck have I done?’ to ‘it’s a joy to be part of this’.
There’s no denying the spiritual benefits of being creatively challenged and while rehearsals are exhausting, there’s a thrill to be found in being far from my comfort zone and part of a theatrical family.
I’d been wrong to mock the director’s attention to detail; Luke Davies is possibly the best director I’ve worked with. For a show to ignite, everyone has to bond on a level that encourages intimacy and trust, especially if the themes of the show are sex, addiction, love and mental health. I’d forgotten how terrifying and invigorating that sense of loyalty can be. Everyone has to be mindful of the unifying fabric that holds a show together.
We staged a rehearsal one sunny afternoon in Soho Square and we must have looked quite a sight- the very definition of a mixed grill. As a group, you ‘d wonder what on earth we were doing together, that’s without Zach Fletcher and Pretty Miss Cairo doing yogic breakdancing.
As research for the character of Ryan, a sexual health advisor and drugs counsellor, I’ve been tutored by the best in the business; staff at 56 Dean St and David Stuart himself (who my character is based on).
In addition to personally experiencing regular sexual health checks at the world-famous clinic, a brilliant nurse called Joe talked me through taking bloods, administering an instant HIV test and the delicacies of taking a rectal swab. No, really.
Mad on her
To assist Zachariah Fletcher in his role as Ash, I brought in a collection of Madonna 12″s on vinyl. The character of Ash is a wannabe DJ with a serious Madge-habit, so it was nice to put that old plastic and card to good use.
Sadly we lost Jack Cole, who played Jason, to the Edinburgh festival, where he’s no doubt wowing the crowds. However, we gained Matthew Hodson, CEO of GMFA, who’s taken over the role. In addition to being a long time campaigner in the HIV/AIDS field, he happens to be an accomplished actor, so we couldn’t have wished for a more suitable addition to the family.
We’ve become a tight gang of queer misfits, ready to take on the world in a blur of dance moves, white wine, laughter and facts about chemsex.
The Clinic is at Kings Head Theatre, 24 August-29th August.