Drama, Laughter, and Difficult Questions
Policing and Crime Act 2017 (UK):
- confer an automatic pardon on deceased individuals convicted of certain consensual gay sexual offences which would not be offences today, and on those persons still living who have had the conviction disregarded under the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. (www.gov.uk)
Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill 2017 (NZ)
“While consensual sex between men aged 16 and over has been legal in New Zealand since 1986, men with historical homosexual convictions can face ongoing stigma and prejudice.
To address this, the Government has introduced the Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill.
The Bill would set up a scheme to allow men who were convicted of specific offences that have since been decriminalised to apply to be treated as if they had never been convicted.” (justice.govt.nz)
Pardon Me Alan Turing is in its second season this week, for Auckland Pride 2018. We spoke with the playwright and producer Stephen Lunt last year, and we caught up with him again to reflect on his show one year later.
Stephen had been writing Pardon Me Alan Turing for a couple of years and the announcements of the law changes last year came in just before the opening night of the development season, and gave the show a sense of spontaneity and immediate relevancy. It also meant that the ending had to change. It originally ended with the question, why hadn’t the pardon [that Alan Turing was granted posthumously] been extended? Stephen incorporated the law changes into the play, and the questions became: now that they have been extended, what does that mean for these men and is the fight over?
Stephen notes that there are some people in rainbow communities that see the law changes as final and that’s that. However for many, he goes on to say, the passing of these laws doesn’t necessarily provide the closure it purports to bring. Many of the men who have been convicted have spent so many years embarrassed and covered their “crimes” up that they don’t want to go through yet another process that brings up their convictions, “especially through government or through police that actually convicted and entrapped them in the first place.”
Stephen hasn’t seen many other works that tackle specific issues and themes he does. There’s the film The Imitation Game based around Alan Turing’s life and monumental work during World War II. But they didn’t explore the implications of his sexuality in any depth. There have been more works on Oscar Wilde, and specifically about his time in prison, but he hasn’t seen anything specific about the pardons and what they mean, and the fight that the rainbow communities have gone through to have these extended and why they should be.
The play goes through a roller coaster of emotions and Stephen has used both drama and comedy to carry the audience through the emotions. The wit and humour of Oscar Wilde, coupled with the directness and intelligence of Alan Turing allows for the banter and quips between the two that offer the comedic elements. “You can’t hit audience with a dramatic moment after dramatic moment without relief, and people listen more when there are changes of emotion. They can listen if they’re upset about something and listen when they’re laughing as well.” The themes are serious, and rather than take away from them, humour and laughter add to their poignancy.
Stephen formed the company Dare You Theatre last year to produce the development season of the show. Although Stephen jokes the company is just him at the moment, he is looking to grow his company to include others who are writing and producing their own work. “It’s a lot of work producing theatre on your own. And I know there’s other people producing theatre on their own as well and it would be good if we could kind of join forces and help each other out with producing each other’s work.”
Producing the show this time around has been easier this time around—publicising and organising the show wasn’t so new and unfamiliar. Pardon Me Alan Turing received a lot of positive feedback and some constructive criticism from audience members and critics that Stephen has taken into consideration when rewriting some parts. The cast are all returning members, allowing them to develop their characters further as there was quite a short rehearsal period last year.
One of the biggest lessons he’s learned throughout from his experience of producing this show has been to not apologise for asking for help. “People are willing to help, and I find it quite hard to ask for help because I always think people are busy and they don’t want to help, I don’t want to ask too much from them, and I don’t want to be an inconvenience… When you begin a project and think you’re the most invested in it—you think you know the most about the project so I may as well do it myself, but I think I need to give more credit that they’ll be able to help.”
It has been extremely fulfilling for Stephen to see his first full-play written and produced on stage. He’s had acts and scenes performed before, but had never produced a full play. It was a success in itself being able to find people who were interested enough in the project to invest their time, resources, and efforts into the play. “As a playwright, it’s fun writing, but it’s meant to be performed, and seeing it on stage and having the comments afterwards so positive throughout the process and having the audience so interested in the subject matter of the play was really fulfilling.”
When asked what his goal for 2018, Stephen had a simple but difficult one: to finish things. Often times, projects are begun and then given some space to breathe. However, coming back to these projects takes so much more energy than expected. In 2018, Stephen aims to finish 2 plays that he’s started, and are near completion. “As a writer you’re never really finished with anything but to get to a stage where I think, this is something I could show people, and even when it’s on stage it goes through the ongoing process of being rewritten.”
Pardon Me Alan Turing opened last night and is on till February 17—so get in quick! To buy tickets: https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2018/feb/pardon-me-alan-turing
The Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill 2017 has yet to be passed. It has completed its first reading and the current status in the process is to discuss the Bill at a Select Committee. For more information and to watch the first reading and the apology from former Minister of Justice Amy Adams: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_74442/tab/video