Pardon Me Alan Turing at Auckland Pride Festival 2017 has become topical with recent announcements in NZ and the UK.
NZ-UK playwright Stephen Lunt tells Renee Liang how the play focuses on the struggle for change, how he had to adapt it for recent events, and what's wrong with the word 'pardon'.
Why do you make theatre?
Because it's magical. You never know what you're going to get when you go to the theatre. You can laugh, cry, see other worlds or something just around the corner. Your experience will be different to the person sitting beside you and you will see something different than in tomorrow's performance. Live theatre is so in the moment, there is nothing quite like it. To be involved in the creation of that experience still takes my breath away.
You have had an amazingly varied career as actor, children's entertainer, producer and writer. How did you develop your career - was there a game plan, or was it more organic?
Much of my career has stemmed from my love of acting. I graduated from Birmingham School of Acting in the UK, in 2002. But even in drama school I had started writing. Monologues for my class mates ignited my love for writing. When you're unknown, it's pretty hard to get people as excited about your writing as you are. This is when you find you have to direct and produce your own work, if you're ever going to get anything on. I've become pretty versatile as a result.
How have you found the creative scene in NZ since arriving 7 years ago?
When I first arrived in New Zealand, I was worried about how small the theatre scene could be, but I have found the opposite. There is so much going on and the quality rivals that of any large creative hub. I have found at a grassroots level artists open, inclusive and collaborative.
What made you write Pardon Me Alan Turing?
After seeing The Imitation Game and researching more into Alan Turing’s situation, I became bewildered as to why he and no others had been pardoned. It seems he has been forgiven for being homosexual solely due to his patriotism. This sparked the questions, is forgiveness really what these men deserve? How has decades of the government’s vilification affected these men? I believed this inequality deserved focus and clarification and what better vehicles for that than through the intelligence of Alan Turing and the wit of Oscar Wilde.
Does the Feb 1, 2017 British 'pardon' of men convicted of homosexuality cast your play in a new light?
I have never been involved with a project where the themes have been so relevant. I admit some rewriting was needed for the end of the play to bring it up to date with current news, as The Turing Law came into effect only three weeks before opening night. But the play focuses on the struggle for change, the reasons it was needed and why this law change does not go far enough. It’s been great publicity and feels we are really in the moment historically with Pardon Me Alan Turing.
What do you think of the recent announcement that NZ historical homosexual convictions will be eligible to be wiped? Does it go far enough?
It is definitely a step in the right direction, but a step is all it is. To say 49,000 men in the UK and between 50,000 and 100,000 men in New Zealand will be pardoned is grossly incorrect. A pardon must be applied for and many convictions have been excluded. Many men were tricked into convictions by plainclothes police and too embarrassed to counter accusations. By the time the UK Turing Law was passed, 320 men had applied for a pardon and only 83 granted. Far from 'momentous'. The word pardon also infers forgiveness, this is not what these men deserve or want to receive. They have done nothing wrong to begin with. Hundreds of years of anti gay and bisexual laws have meant it will take a long time for society to see these men as equals.
What's the the key issues for LGBT rights right now, and do you tackle these in the play?
Marriage equality was such a long and difficult fight for the rainbow community, but the fight for equality is still ongoing, and governments’ anti gay laws around the world have been so damaging that it will take society a long time to really consider us equal.
You have an amazing creative team and cast - how did you assemble them and how have rehearsals gone so far?
Securing an amazing director in Patrick Graham was my first step and utilising his connections found us an extremely experienced creative team. Securing the right cast is key to a smooth and creatively successful production. Sitting in some of Patrick’s rehearsals has been a joy, the cast understand and are fascinated by the world of the play and this shows in their incredible performances.
Why did you choose to debut your play at Te Pou?
Te Pou are being extremely generous and supportive in encouraging new works. They have designed their Rangatahi Season so participants have the best chance of success. It can be extremely expensive to produce theatre and we should be grateful there are theatres like Te Pou and The Basement that are willing to take as much
of as a risk on exciting new work as you are. This is how theatre progresses.
What are you working on next?
Producing Pardon Me Alan Turing has taken so much time, it has been difficult to focus on anything else. But I hope to be able to transfer it to other theatres and eventually to the UK where it is set. I have a few plays I want to look back on, one concerning our view of the Muslim community, especially relevant in light of what is going on in the States at the moment. I would also like to revisit the first show I produced in New Zealand, The Wrong Side. I am also putting together a proposal for a TV series aimed at young people. So like many artists, I have lots of projects simmering on the back-burner, waiting to boil over into life.
- Directed by Patrick Graham, cast includes David Capstick (The Catch), Geoff Allen (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Dark Knight) and Joseph Wycoff (This Giant Papier-Mache Boulder, Bombshell). Pardon Me Alan Turing runs from the 21- 25 February at Te Pou Theatre in New Lynn.