It was in 2007, after the final instalment of the Harry Potter series was published, that J.K. Rowling revealed that Professor Dumbledore had been gay. Having never felt the need to mention this in any of the published books, it certainly sparked conversation, and much of that will have been in the playgrounds where so many young fans were still growing up. Robert Holtom’s Dumbledore Is So Gay, playing at VAULT Festival follows one such Harry Potter fan who is discovering his own sexuality at the same time as Dumbledore’s becomes a national talking point.
Jack is only twelve when the play begins, but he already knows how he feels about his best friend, Ollie. We see him navigate a world where the word ‘gay’ is thrown around as an insult, and his Dad won’t watch Graham Norton on TV because of his sexuality. By the time he reaches sixteen, things haven’t turned out the way Jack had hoped and just like Hermione went back to save Buckbeak, Jack gives his time-turner three twists and we’re back to the French lesson where it all began.
This world is populated by Jack and his friends Ollie and Gemma, there are to Jack what Ron and Hermione are to Harry, the difference is it’s the two boys who fall for each other. When the initial trip back in time doesn’t deliver the expected results, we head back to that French lesson for a third time.
Not all of the changes that occur with the time travel make complete sense, but that was never a problem for Rowling either, the difference is Robert Holtom has created a very clever metaphor for changing attitudes to homosexuality over time, while simultaneously exploring the difficulties that come with growing up in a world that still sees being gay, as being different.
Despite its serious subject matter, Dumbledore Is So Gay manages to be uproariously funny in places, witty one-liners or exaggerated caricatures make for a richly layered story that keeps the audience completely bought in. But there’s sadness too, for the life that Jake finds himself leading, and for the realisation that time-turners don’t really exist, except in the world of Hogwarts.
Max Percy and Charlotte Dowding take on all of the characters aside from Jack. The multi-rolling works well in the main, and although some don’t have enough differentiation, director Tom Wright has allowed the cast to have fun with it, giving the audience an occasional wink to bring them in on the joke.
Alex Britt is outstanding as Jack, he brings the perfect mix of anxiety and pensiveness to a character that is struggling to come to terms with his own life, and facing the fears of coming out to friends and family. Britt tells much of the story, and it’s a tall order, but his delivery is perfect throughout, with an easy charm that gets the audience onside from the get go.
Only three boxes make up the set, so it’s up to the cast of three to bring the story alive, and they do so with heartfelt sincerity and commitment. Peter Wilson’s sound design is a beautiful soundscape with touches of magic and melancholy which capture the anguish and turmoil, and steps back to let the comedy shine through.
Dumbledore Is So Gay is a wonderfully poignant but uplifting play that will undoubtedly touch the hearts of anyone who sees it, it’s very cleverly written and the references to Harry Potter are just where the magic of this production begins. Any young audience members struggling with their sexuality may just leave knowing that Alex Britt’s Jack would be their perfect Patronus.
Main Image: Charlotte Dowding, Alex Britt and Max Percy c. Gabriel Mokake