Robert Chesley’s play Jerker, or The Helping Hand returns to London for the first time in 29 years in a new production at the King’s Head Theatre, directed by Ben Anderson. Co-produced by Making Productions, this show will run between 30 October and 23 November 2019. Casting has yet to be announced.
Jerker is a pornographic elegy with redeeming social value and a hymn to the queer men of San Francisco in twenty telephone calls, many of them dirty. It has been described as “one of the most important pieces of gay theatre ever created” (Los Angeles Times). It also has the dubious reputation of triggering stricter broadcast indecency guidelines in the US, after excerpts of the play were aired on KPFK Pacific Radio in Los Angeles in 1986. The one and only previous staging of Jerker in London, was directed by Stephen Daldry at the Gate Theatre in 1990.
As the AIDS epidemic intensifies in the early 80’s, Bert and J.R. begin having phone sex. They’ve never met, never seen each other and never touched, but together, they explore their wildest fantasies and the contours of their lonely souls. By turns erotic and tender, this intimate two-hander will leave you breathless before breaking your heart.
In addition to its erotic nature, Jerker embodies a deeper social importance. It reflects one of the worst periods in gay history, where the stigma of AIDS hung over the gay community, heightening public prejudice. The fear and silence around this subject was broken by a new wave of plays that began to emerge on the topic, acknowledging the crisis, humanizing lives and encouraging the need for a personal response.
In Robert Chesley’s script notes, he says “I can only hope that Jerker has done and will continue to do some good, with its message of pride in gay identity and honesty about sex.”
Director Ben Anderson commented: “Robert Chesley’s play places itself at the height of the AIDS crisis and in conversation with other, well-known plays about the period – Angels in America, The Normal Heart, As Is. Yet these poignant moments that root it in history, also make it strikingly resonant today. The focus on two men in their most private spaces allows for an honest and open embrace of gay sexuality that remains as surprising as it is joyful. Exploring their emotional intimacy, as they form a connection and learn to be themselves, Chesley’s combination of comedy and heart-breaking tragedy makes this a timely and fascinating piece to revive.”
Graduates of the scheme include Katie Mitchell and Michael Longhurst. The Directing Programme was created in 1994. In 2002 the Programme won the Queen’s Jubilee Award in recognition of its unique value, for contribution to the arts and pursuit of Excellence, presented by HM Queen Elizabeth II, Lord Attenborough and Richard Eyre.