Interview: Blowing the whistle on being gay, in love and on Gaydar

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Matthew Todd, playwright, journalist, stand-up comedian, Attitude editor and environmentalist, spoke to last week about the latest London production of his play Blowing Whistles.

An instant smash hit when it premiered in 2005, this new production follows sell-out productions in Australia and the USA.

It is directed by Pete Nettell features an all-new star cast including Paul Keating (Closer to Heaven, Little Shop of Horrors and Stephen Fry’s Cinderella at The Old Vic) and Stuart Laing (seen recently as Rob Minter in EastEnders).

The plot will be familiar to many gays in longterm relationships.

In love and fully domesticated, Jamie and Paul are celebrating their tenth anniversary – by inviting a 17-year-old from Gaydar over for a threesome.

Paul, a sleazy late-30s ad man, struggling to come to terms with his receding attractiveness, is a perfeect foil for Jamie, the slightly younger, happy-go-lucky doormat who goes along with his boyfriend’s desires.

However, the arrival of their Gaydar teen sets off a train of events that could make or break their relationship. How many people told you they saw themselves in Blowing Whistles?

Matthew Todd: My God, I’ve lost count. It’s always one of the most humbling things about the play that people have either been in the situations that occur in it or know someone who has.

I just got an email from a complete stranger today saying how much it touched him and I got a forwarded one yesterday from a straight couple in New Zealand who saw it in Sydney where it’s just broken box office records on its second run. It’s overwhelming.

Do you think it is legitimate to say that gay men can’t do monogamy?

No, not at all. It can seem that way because there are hardly any representations of gay relationships in the media or public life, let alone monogamous ones.

That’s why I started a page in Attitude called Truly, Madly Deeply that features a couple in a serious relationship – to show another side and get away from the sex, sex, sex thing.

That said, I have an open mind about open relationships. They wouldn’t be for me but I do know lots of people they work for.

I also see lots of people saying they are monogamous but cheat. I think honesty is imperative. What’s the point otherwise?

I hope people get that the play is not down on monogamous relationships, it’s actually saying if you want more than you have then don’t settle for less because you deserve it, and can get it.

Interview: Blowing the whistle on being gay, in love and on Gaydar

Stuart Laing, Paul Keating and Daniel Finn in Blowing Whistles

How much does the scene ‘teach’ gay people to be promiscuous?

It’s a complicated issue. Historically, gay people have had to go to clubs and pubs – the scene – to meet people, to socialise, to meet partners and so of course it has become a sexualised environment because sex is the defining thing that unites us all, in all our diversity.

I think young gay men are starting to realise that their sexuality doesn’t have to define them but in ‘gay culture’ you can’t get away from it.

There’s a line in the play where one of the characters says ‘I remember a police chief in the eighties saying that gay people were swimming in a cesspit of their own making’ and everyone went mad… If someone said that now, all we’d want to know was ‘where’s the venue?’ and ‘how much is it to get in with a flyer?’.

I love sex as much as the next person but lots of us base our whole self worth on how sexually attractive we are.

It’s draining, damaging and pointless, whether you are gay or straight. I’m not being holier than thou about it.

The play is kind of me working out my own issues in some ways. It’s as much to me as to the audience.

What were your experiences of the scene?

Well I don’t think we usually get the chance to be teenagers. What I had was weird furtive sexual experiences – one school friend prayed to God after a fumble, for forgiveness, I was praying we’d do it again – and then having to go to a gay youth group in someone’s bedsit, just to be able to say the words ‘I am gay’ to another person.

That is the fault of schools and the government and the media that stops us from having a grown up discussion about sexuality and young people.

Kids should be able to get open emotional support from teachers and from their community. Kids are killing themselves at the moment because they don’t get that and are made to feel like freaks.

Like 15-year-old Jonathan Reynolds or 14-year-old Laura Rhodes, who both killed themselves because of homophobic bullying. It’s a national disgrace. I am disgusted at the way some of the press is trying to create outrage about Rikki Beadle-Blair’s play FIT being shown in schools.

No one’s trying to make anyone gay, they are just trying to stop gay kids being bullied. I knew I was gay when I was 11.

We need this play and for schools to deal with this issue head on. The situation is insane. It’s their kids that are being bullied to death!

Those editors should sit down with Jonathan and Laura’s parents and tell them it’s wrong to try and deal with homophobic bullying. The way we are now will be looked at as barbaric in years to come.

Were gay people more or less promiscuous before the arrival of Gaydar?

I’m too scared to get into a discussion about the historic peaks of gay promiscuity! It peaks every weekend! Gay men are men, yadda yadda, so we like sex. Though I think Gaydar is like throwing petrol on the fire. (Laughs).

It’s like giving chocoholics the keys to the Cadbury’s factory. I’m surprised servers can cope with that website and it doesn’t bring down the national grid.

The character of Mark, the teenager, is naked for one key scene – is that a key ingredient of a gay play – nudity?

It seems to be and that can be depressing. We discussed the nudity long and hard (matron) and decided it’s essential because sex is one of the driving forces in the play.

It’s almost the fourth character. You need to see this young guy getting into this very adult uncomfortable situation.

The first half of the play is intentionally a big gay romp, almost a little homage to frothy gay nonsense and then it becomes something totally different in the second.

Do you think gay audiences are less shocked by nudity?

We’re so used to it, I think some of the audience think the actors should remove their clothes at the curtain call and everyone should cop a feel. My mum wasn’t shocked. She told Daniel that he’d made an old woman very happy.

Does Blowing Whistles appeal to straight people? Shouldn’t we be reaching out and telling them our stories?

I think it totally does because it’s about relationships and that’s what straight people who have seen it have said.

We’ve gotten fantastic reviews from mainstream media such as The Stage, The Big Issue and even The Spectator and got 4 stars in The Evening Standard, Sunday Express, and Time Out.

There are lots of straight couples that come out red-eyed, which is great. You could argue Beautiful Thing didn’t speak to straight people but who cares, that doesn’t diminish it at all, it’s amazing.

If something is good then it transcends sexuality. Beautiful Thing does and I hope Blowing Whistles does too.

Have you got any more plays in the pipeline?

Yes, I’m working on a new one about climate change and I’ve got another idea for a ‘gay’ play. I hate that tag; ultimately it’s just a play and I know it puts some people off because they expect it to be crap.

But there are other stories to tell about characters that are gay and I’ve got one. I want to do more stand up comedy too as I’ve had a break for about a year and I really miss it.

You are now editor of Attitude – what is next for the UK’s best-known gay title?

We’re working on lots of exciting things at the moment, lot’s of big exclusives coming up but I don’t want to give too much away.

I want the magazine to live up to its name and be provocative.

I know gay people are not stupid and that’s what it is all about. An amazing journalist called Daniel Fulvio is about to join us and I’m really hoping we’re going to have a great year. If I don’t drop dead from mainlining Red Bull.

Blowing Whistles is playing at the Leicester Square Theatre, WC2H 7BX until November 29th.