MEMBER is an Australian/Scottish piece of theatrical storytelling, which uses the true stories of a series of homophobic assaults in Sydney in the 1980s, to present a story of confused masculinity, working class decline, and peer pressure.
Skilfully delivered by Ben Noble, who portrays Corey, and Simone Seales, who provides musical accompaniment, this is a demanding piece of drama.
Australia in the 1980s was experiencing an immense period of change. The White Australia Policy had officially been abandoned during the mid-1970s, and New South Wales had decriminalised homosexual activity in 1975.
Wider society, still overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic in origin or descent, and strongly influenced by the Catholic Church, was less accepting of these changes.
This was especially the case in the working class inner-city and coastal suburbs of Sydney, where visibly queer men were subject to frequent “gay bashings”.
Throughout the hour of the show, Noble’s Corey relates the story of his life, focusing on his time as a teenager, when he was struggling to understand who he was, and to work out his place in the world.
We jump back and forth between ‘then’ and ‘now’, as we listen to Corey try to explain who he is, and justify the various choices he has made throughout his life.
Seales provides accompaniment on cello: sometimes a smooth soundtrack; sometimes more jarring; sometimes a representation of a heartbeat. The atmosphere generated is utterly enthralling, as it also builds the tension.
The reality of what was happening to gay men at this time was that they were being hunted, beaten and brutally murdered, for no reason other than their sexuality. Suspicion of being gay was enough to condemn these young men to a violent death.
Institutionalised homophobia, particularly amongst the New South Wales Police Force, meant that the crimes were brushed aside, murders recorded as suicides, investigations never even started. Most of the crimes remain unsolved to this day.
As well as performing, Nobel has also written the show. It’s an exceptional monologue, delivered with skill and maturity as an actor.
This story is hard to listen to, but the audience’s attention never wavers, as Nobel relates an entirely fictional tale from a devastatingly brutal reality.
The fact that this story could be entirely and wholly true is a sobering realisation of how far society still has to go in accepting people for who they are, and accepting who they love.
As the story reaches its shocking climax, we have to radically reassess everything we thought we knew, but also ask how easily we could succumb to the forces influencing Corey’s choices.
This is a very difficult piece of theatre, and potential audience members should be aware of the frequent descriptions of violence, and use of extremely homophobic language (typical of the time setting).
It is however a vital story which needs to remain in the public consciousness, to remind us of the injustices done to those who just wanted to live their lives authentically.
MEMBER continues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until 27th August.
Featured Image Credit: Luke Cadden for Fairly Lucid Productions