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Saturday 10 October 2009

Bringing Mates & Lovers to life

Posted in: Performance
By Matt Akersten - 16th September 2009

The lovingly-created and lavishly-illustrated book won a Montana Book Award this year, and now Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand the play is being readied for curtain-up at Wellington's BATS Theatre.

Playwright and director Ronald Trifero Nelson says he felt compelled to bring the book to life. "The stories of real men in the book prove we're here, we're queer, and we always have been," he says. "I thought: 'I have to do this play'".

Aiming to cover a wide range of stories stretching way back from 1770 through to 2009, Nelson is aware that he's putting his actors through their paces. "It's just two guys playing all the various characters. It's intense, but I like that intensity," he laughs.

The two lead actors Sam McLeod and Kent Seaman, who are both gay themselves, are rehearsing now for the opening night next week. With some choreography, nudity, singing, and an assortment of emotional and at times harrowing scenes, they have their work cut out. "Our actors know they are bringing real people back to life, and are keenly aware of and feel responsible for these stories. They know they carry a lot on their shoulders," the playwright says.

Intimate stories: Actors Sam McLeod & Kent Seaman. Pics: Robert Catto
Based largely on real life events which were presented in the book, the play shows the various trials and tribulations of men finding and losing each other in various eras of Kiwi history. Nelson was particularly fascinated with 'shock aversion' therapies to 'cure' homosexuality in the mid part of the 20th century. "We gay men were desperately seduced into thinking we needed to be 'fixed'. We were medicated. We were electrified. Like we were 'sick' and needed to be 'healed'."

The production's poster image is a recreation of the 1888 photo which adorns the cover of the original book. "Like the book's author, Chris Brickell, I recognised several things about it. Their knees are touching. They're sitting on the chairs back-to-front, perfectly framing their crotches. In the original photo there was a Roman column. All these aspects make you wonder about the guys' relationship."



Mates & Lovers opens at Wellington's BATS Theatre on Thursday 24 September, and tickets are already selling well for its short run which concludes on Saturday 3 October.

A short promo video for the play is shown below, and a booking form is here.

Matt Akersten - 16th September 2009

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