What’s Wrong With Angry is a play that was written in 1992, with a lot of very political intent, not least directed towards section 28. Essentially the play is a love story, but since the protagonist, Steven Carter, is a gay 16 year old schoolboy, this is not as straightforward as it might be. Still less helpful is the fact that the boy he loves, John Westhead, is, as the play might put it, “confused” about his sexuality.
The actors responsible for bringing this awkward relationship to the stage are Oliver Jack and Christopher Birks, both of whom create amazingly real characters and a very believable relationship. The rest of the cast are good, but it’s these two who, perhaps inevitably, shine (though a special mention goes to Charlie Deans as Linda).
The direction of the show seemed pretty good to me, able to flip seamlessly between pointing up the expressionist parts of the play with lighting and sound, and letting the drama inherent in the characters’ situations play out in the more naturalist bits.
The main question I have to ask about this production, however, is why now? Section 28 was repealed several years ago (a different number of years depending on where you live). What then has prompted the play’s author, Patrick Wilde, to direct a new production for the Fringe in 2008? I suspect the answer is partly “why not?”. You don’t need a reason to put on a piece of political theatre at the Fringe, sometimes it’s just nice to see things that you won’t see performed elsewhere. There are, in any case, many messages in the play which go beyond section 28, addressed both to society at large, and towards the gay “scene”.
And many of these messages are valuable. Often the character of Simon Hutton, a gay teacher at Steven’s school, is used as a seemingly obvious channel for the author’s thoughts, urging the scene to “forget about the sex, concentrate on the love”, or somesuch, if it is to win mainstream acceptance. These sections are worthwhile, but a spiel from the same character about the evils of section 28 falls a bit flat. At the time the play was written, I could see this having a place in the play, but today, it comes across as rather too earnest and preachy, especially when the Fringe audience who see the play are all going to be pretty enlightened types anyway, and something of an anachronism – too much is made of it to feel like a simple period detail.
Still, it’s easy to overdo the political aspects of this show, and overlook the heart of it, the point of which is the wholly nonpolitical nature of what it depicts: a love story. In portraying this, and in making a few broader points, the show is highly succesful, even if it probably has lost much of the directly political bite that it might once have had.