Translating ‘gaytown’: the collision of global and local in bringing Australian queer play Bison to Belfast.

Alyson Campbell

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2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Sydney playwright Lachlan Philpott’s Bison (2000/2009) is immersed in a sweaty, summery Antipodean scene of bronzed and toned bodies. It is located in the flora and fauna of gum trees and biting ants. Yet, despite this, it could be argued that at its heart it is not a specifically Australian site, but an all-too translatable scene that seems to be played out in gay clubs, bars, chatrooms and saunas around the Western world: men repeating patterns, looking for sex or love; checking out bodies, craving perfection; avoiding, and occasionally seeking, disease. At least, that was my assumption when I decided to direct the play in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2009. Philpott came to Belfast to workshop the play with the actors and, as a group, we restructured the play and tried to find a way to ‘de-Australianise’ it without necessarily placing it in a new geographical place - Northern Ireland - through linguistic clues in the text. As Philpott put it: ‘Let’s not make this play about Belfast or Sydney or London or anywhere because it is not a fair reflection of these scenes. Maybe we should just identify the generic elements of this world and then make Bison a play that reflects gaytown – because the rituals are all the same in Western society’. The experience of doing the play in Belfast made clear, however, that ideas of a global gay identity/experience –though highly marketed – fail to account for the vastly different situations of embodied gay experience. And the Northern Irish gay experience, while it has imported the usual ‘generic’ tropes of gayness, sits within a specific cultural context in which the farsighted legislation on equality for gays (imposed by either London or the EU) vastly outstrips wider societal thinking. For many in Northern Ireland, erstwhile MP Iris Robinson’s comments about homosexuality being an ‘abomination’ were a reason to support her, rather than to reject her. For me, the comments were the catalyst to doing Bison in Belfast.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAustralasian Drama Studies
Volume59
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011

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