What I’m reading: the changing lives of gay men and women


Peter Scott-Presland: A GAY CENTURY Volume Two


The second volume of Peter Scott-Presland’s short plays chronicling the lives of gay men and woman through the twentieth century takes us from the 1970s to the millennium – three decades which saw huge changes to laws and attitudes in the UK and most of the world. Section 28 is revisited, and the legislation to legitimize same-sex partnerships and marriage and gay parenting.

In an ironic twist on the grim reality of the Aids pandemic, ‘Quarantine’ imagines that Health Secretary Norman Fowler was empowered to intern anyone with (or even suspected of having) HIV in prison camps on the Isle of Man. Comedy with a dark edge.

These playlets are written to be spoken or sung. As operettas they would be in the style of Brecht rather than Puccini; there are no soaring arias and the language is everyday. The opening chapter in Volume One, with Queen Victoria visiting Oscar Wilde on his deathbed in a Paris fleapit hotel and pirating lines from his plays, remains my personal favourite, as fruity as a Christmas cake, not quite equalled by anything in Volume Two. Victoria and Oscar, with others from the series, make ghostly cameo appearances in the seventeenth and final play, ‘Two Into One’, which has Ken Livingstone among the supporters of two old queens – make that two ancient queens – on their wedding day, a pair as dated and waspish as Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen in ITV’s weirdly old-fashioned sitcom Vicious.

A Gay Century is an imaginative triumph. Bravissimo, Peter Scott-Presland!

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