Be­fore Kinky Boots, Hair­spray and La Cage Aux Folles, Har­vey Fier­stein held a Torch of his own. Now his Tony-win­ning play re­turns for the Dar­linghurst The­atre’s 25th An­niver­sary.


THERE’S AN im­pres­sive canon of the­atre that’s in­spired by, and res­onates with, the LGBTIQ com­mu­nity: An­gels In Amer­ica, Bent, The Boys In The Band and, of course, Har­vey Fier­stein’s Torch Song Tril­ogy.

It’s the story of Arnold Beck­off, a sharp­tongued drag per­former, and his jour­ney through var­i­ous re­la­tion­ships and self­dis­cov­er­ies. The plot in­cludes com­ing out, sex­ual dis­cov­ery, and Arnold even­tu­ally adopt­ing a teenage son. It also high­lights the, some­times, fraught re­la­tion­ships gay peo­ple have with their par­ents, even while wish­ing to fol­low in their foot­steps as men­tors and nur­tur­ers.

Torch Song Tril­ogy be­gan as three separate plays: In­ter­na­tional Stud, Fugue In A Nurs­ery and Wid­ows And Chil­dren First, be­fore com­bin­ing into one play. The first act sees Arnold meet­ing Ed, his bi­sex­ual lover. The se­cond takes place a year later when Arnold is liv­ing with Alan. By the third, Arnold is rais­ing a teenager and deal­ing with “mother is­sues”.

The orig­i­nal cast in­cluded Matthew Brod­er­ick as David and Estelle Getty as Arnold’s mother, Mrs Beck­off, and won two Tony Awards – for Fier­stein’s per­for­mance and best new play. The 1988 film ver­sion re­cast Anne Ban­croft as Ma Beck­off.

As a new pro­duc­tion pre­pares to open on Broad­way later this year, a lo­cal work is open­ing this month at Syd­ney’s Dar­linghurst The­atre with Stephen Colyer (Falset­tos, Cabaret) at the helm. For Colyer, who di­rected Torch Song Tril­ogy at Dar­linghurst back in 2013, the play is an im­por­tant LGBTIQ marker.

“Torch Song Tril­ogy is the­atre giv­ing a face to the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing dif­fer­ent be­cause of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion,” he says, “and by mak­ing gay and queer sto­ries vis­i­ble, these plays hu­man­ise peo­ple for a much wider au­di­ence. Works like Torch Song are part of our gay cul­tural her­itage but are not al­ways be­ing pri­ori­tised for re­vival, at least not in Aus­tralia,” he says.

As with many other ad­mir­ers of the play, Colyer was drawn to the story hav­ing seen the movie at an early age.

“I loved the film,” he says. “It was im­por­tant for me as a teenager be­cause it showed a well-ad­justed gay char­ac­ter stand­ing up to dis­crim­i­na­tion in an up­lift­ing way, at a time when gay char­ac­ters were few and far be­tween. Our 2013 pro­duc­tion of Torch Song was when the mar­riage equal­ity de­bate was be­com­ing par­tic­u­larly ugly so it was timely to watch Arnold de­fend­ing his right to be in a lov­ing same-sex re­la­tion­ship and raise a child.”

The new pro­duc­tion stars Si­mon Cor­field (Packed To The Rafters) as Arnold, Tim Draxl (A Place To Call Home) as Ed, with Kate Rai­son as Mrs Beck­off.

“The au­di­ence will be sur­prised by the casts’ ad­di­tional tal­ents,” prom­ises Colyer, “but also im­pacted by the raw truths re­vealed through the mu­si­cal num­bers. We in­cor­po­rate phys­i­cal the­atre, cabaret, stand-up com­edy and sit-com con­ven­tions – even sign lan­guage. It’s quite eclec­tic.”

Colyer be­lieves that what makes Torch Song Tril­ogy so cap­ti­vat­ing, how­ever, is its heart. “We can all iden­tify with Arnold and we recog­nise how the ob­sta­cles he en­coun­ters are not dis­sim­i­lar to our own,” he says.

“This is largely due to the un­flinch­ing hon­esty of Fier­stein’s writ­ing. I’d like to think that young gay au­di­ences will ap­pre­ci­ate how the rights they en­joy were fought for, and won, by the pi­o­neer­ing gen­er­a­tions that came be­fore – such as Fier­stein. By en­vi­sion­ing a life that in­cludes a child and a sta­ble re­la­tion­ship, Arnold was ahead of his time, and the fact that these kinds of fam­i­lies ex­ist to­day is thanks to the vi­sion­ar­ies who put it on the stage.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the con­ser­va­tive views of Arnold’s mother are the same ar­gu­ments that are still used to dis­crim­i­nate against peo­ple to­day.

“Arnold con­tin­ues to be an in­spir­ing ex­am­ple to all peo­ple to stand up for them­selves and be proud of who they are,” says Colyer. MORE: dar­linghurstthe­

(Above) Si­mon Cor­field as Arnold; (Right) Di­rec­tor, Stephen Colyer.

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