My EQView feature this week was an interview with Patrick Cash, the playwright of The Clinic, a new play which takes an in-depth look at modern gay life and lifestyles, including Grindr, chemsex, HIV, homophobia, mental health, and love.
My EQView interview with Patrick Cash, the playwright of The Clinic, is here:
Cut and pasted from the EQView website:
THE CLINIC - MEET THE WRITER - PATRICK CASH
The Clinic is a new play which takes an in-depth look at modern gay life and lifestyles, addressing the hot topics of Grindr, chemsex, mental health, HIV, homophobia and love. The Clinic has just completed a short run at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
I saw the play recently and reviewed it for EQView. The play starts a dialogue and provokes debate. I wanted to continue the conversation so I interviewed Patrick Cash, the playwright, to discuss his work, the play, its key topics and its impact.
EQView: What do you do in your day job?
I write. I gave up a full-time journalism job in March of this year to concentrate on creative writing, in between freelancing for media companies and writing for magazines.
I also perform as a spoken word poet – recently at Latitude – and host events: Spoken Word London (Vogue Fabrics), Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs (Ku Klub) and the queer scratch performance night Not Suitable For Work (The Glory).
If I can carry on writing plays and making a living, I’ll be a happy man!
Tell us about how The Clinic originated / came about, and about the development process for The Clinic.
I co-organise Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs with David Stuart, Lead Substance Use Advisor for the Soho sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street. He commissioned me to write a play about the clinic for the Dean Street Wellbeing Campaign back in March. I interviewed both patients and staff at the clinic, and spoke to many of my own friends about their experience of gay London, including some of the actors in the finished piece. I took all this material and wove it into a story about two boys.
The wonderful Rachel Illingworth from the King’s Head Theatre came to that event, took a chance on the draft script, and we got a week’s run. It was a lot of work and we rehearsed in whatever space we could source: offices, nightclub basements, 56 Dean Street itself, or even the living room of my flat, performing to an audience of three bemused cats.
But when we got the Arts Council funding through was a real turning point, as everyone knew they were going to be paid for their time and hard work. The rehearsal period could be stressful – especially when one of our lead actors was hospitalised with a twisted testicle (no joke) the weekend before we opened – but it’s all been more than worth it.
Tell us about the five characters featured in The Clinic. Are they real people, fictional people, or a mix of both? Why did you want to bring these particular stories to the stage?
I think any character is always faceted by people the writer has met. There are aspects of real life people and of course the interviews feed into the creation: Ryan, the sexual health advisor, evidently has manifest elements of David Stuart. But there are also many other strands of Dean Street workers who care passionately about their community, including manager Leigh Chislett.
The inspiration for Shirley, the woman who looks after the G-twitching guys in her beauty clinic, is an amazing person named Michelle Thornber-Dunwell. I thought her story of care, love and non-judgemental attitude was an important one to portray. But then the character on stage isn’t Michelle, because she’s been spun through the prism of my mind.
Likewise, both the lead boys Elliot and Ash have resemblances to past lovers, but ultimately they’re fissures of myself. I’m attracted to playwriting because of its live happening of performance, the in-the-moment electricity, which is the same as spoken word. However, the actual writing is very different: in spoken word it’s most often your own ‘I’ and self, but with creating characters you are splitting yourself.
This was hardest to do with Jason, the ‘villain’ of the piece, and none of my interviews were his inspiration! I had to dive deep down, to find lingering issues of internalised homophobia and control, and ask what might happen if I allowed these to overwhelm me. Jason, for all his horrible actions, is not meant to be wholly hated. I see him ultimately as a character of pity.
How did you find/choose your actors?
Most of them were friends! I met Zachariah Fletcher when we both performed at a night named Naked Boys Reading (does what it says on the tin), and I worked with Damien Killeen and Pretty Miss Cairo on the queer adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Arcola Theatre. Stewart Who? I got to agree over a drunken lunch at Balans.
At our first rehearsed reading we had an awesome actor named Jack Cole play Jason, but he was in Edinburgh for this run. Luckily, Matthew Hodson, the Chief Executive of gay men’s health charity GMFA, happened to mention he did acting on the side and I was like: ‘you’re in’. It was a shame to lose Jack, but Matthew has been a fantastic replacement.
I actually interviewed Damien as part of my research, which was helpful with giving depth to Elliot – some of his lines are his own quotes, very meta. Knowing that Zac was going to play Ash enabled me to envision the character’s physicality. And then I got Luke Davies, my friend since childhood, to direct it.
I’m lucky to know such talented people – and everybody in the cast has been absolutely stellar.
The Clinic takes an in-depth look at modern gay life and lifestyles. Which of the many issues it highlights is most important to you and why?
I think drug use is an important issue to talk about. I’m very much in the Shirley camp of ‘the war on drugs isn’t working’ and that our archaic drug laws need rethinking. However, people can use drugs in harmful ways or for the wrong reasons. I’m not trying to make a sweeping generalisation about every gay drug user but the fact that chemsex is so widespread in London, and some of the stories we get at ‘Let’s Talk…’, increasingly indicate it is not originating from a carefree or happy place. Half the men at chillouts are on Grindr looking for something else – what are you really looking for? Of course, at Dean Street as well patients present with complex issues surrounding drug use.
I also wanted to challenge and break down stigma about gay sex itself, HIV and mental health. At the time of writing the first draft I also wrote a long article for Vice about LGBT mental health, the effects of growing up gay in a straight man’s world, and much of my research for that piece has seeped into the play.
A key theme of The Clinic is the search for love. Is it possible to find love through Grindr?
I absolutely wanted to show two people finding love through Grindr. We call Grindr and its ilk ‘hook-up apps’, which shows we culturally believe they’re just for sex. If we change the cultural context, then our relationship to what the technology gives us could change: yet another throwaway shag could become the love of your life. Let’s change the dialogue, and emphasise the humanity behind the screen, because we’re all worth more than being reduced to a little window, stats and a sexual role.
The Clinic takes a long hard look at the Chemsex scene. Why is the Chemsex scene so appealing to some gay men?
I’ve touched upon chemsex above, and I wouldn’t like to try and answer for all gay men who have chemsex. But David Stuart has some insightful theories about intimacy and the pyschological ramifications of hiding away your sexuality in adolescence. That fear of being found out by friends, family and loved ones is very real, in my own experience, and it’s intertwined with your view of sex. Then there’s the stigma that’s still attached to gay sex, and the anus, in a society that revolves around straight sex to sell us everything from toothpaste to cars.
To find a tool or drug that relieves all that baggage of the mind is a real release. These theories have found their way verbatim into the play.
Jason is a great villain. We have all come across men like Jason. Do you think it is possible for men like that to change? Can a leopard change his spots?
I like to think anybody has the capacity to change. As Matthew himself says in the pre-promotion we did for Attitude, ‘just like the other characters in the play, he’s been damaged by life and is responding to the challenges he faces the only way he knows how.’ Perhaps one of the points is if Jason was to swallow his pride and accept the help on offer from places like Dean Street, he could reduce his harm.
There are two generations of gay men featured in The Clinic – younger (Ash and Elliot) and older (Jason and Ryan). What do you think are the differences between these generations in terms of how they see themselves, their lifestyles, their experiences and their communities?
Both the older men Jason and Ryan came of age in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. For Ryan, it had an effect of anger, but also making him care passionately about his community. We are less aware of the effects on Jason, but I suppose the two characters could arguably show the polarities that trauma can have on a person’s life.
There have been links made between the AIDS crisis and chemsex. Ecstasy use in the gay community allegedly grew hugely in the 90s, and now the drugs have changed but not gone away. Some of the nurses I spoke to who worked with AIDS patients in the 80s mentioned being treated themselves for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Aeon published a fascinating article about epigenetics: or how environmental factors like community can chemically switch certain genes on and off. Think of a social media matrix for minds, or how insect ‘hive minds’ work. We may not speak about it but within this theory there’s certainly the possibility that trauma is still being shared, and we still live in the shadow of incurable HIV. Therefore I opened the play with a speech about AIDS.
Elliot as a younger man displays some knowledge of the 80s, but Ash may believe his story is completely separate. Not necessarily.
As a community we’ve been through a fucking lot, and it’s desperately unfair, but I believe it’s very important we all have a knowledge of our cultural history across the generations, and speak about these subjects. Speech is our greatest path to catharsis, and to release bad feelings from the body.
Were you trying to convey any sexual health / HIV messages through The Clinic? What were they?
Yes: love yourself, keep yourself safe and keep your brothers and lovers safe too. On an ostensible level this is about prevention of HIV transmission, but the deeper level goes far and beyond, straying into the very core of what constitutes community.
What audience response did you hope to get to The Clinic and what response have you got?
We were hoping that people would enjoy the play, and it would achieve what all good art does: provoking an emotional response. And we were nervous because the play visits dark places, but there’s also a lot of humour and laughter – I’m pleased to say everyone laughed in the right places!
We’ve been astounded and very moved by the reaction on social media. A lot of people have said they were moved to tears. Thank you to everyone who took the time to Tweet or post, and provide us with positive feedback. It was great to get some good reviews too, of course!
What impact would you like/hope for The Clinic to have?
That it encourages greater dialogue and reduces stigma about the subjects it tackles.
Now it has finished its run at The King’s Head Theatre, what is next for The Clinic?
We’re not sure at the moment, but we’d definitely like to build upon this success. It’d be great to take it on tour or do a longer run. We may be doing some extra dates at the King’s Head so watch this space!
What is next for Patrick Cash? Any new projects in the pipeline?
Lots! We’re taking Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs up to Liverpool for Homotopia in November, I’m speaking at the Being A Man festival at the Southbank, and it looks like my spoken word poem ‘Hate’ is finally being released as a single soon by DJ/producer KDA. I’ll be writing more for Attitude as well, thanks to their amazing editor Matthew Todd, who has fully supported The Clinic from the beginning.
And play-wise: we’ve been offered some dates by Jonny Woo in The Glory’s basement for the end of November, and I’m toying with a Christmas-based ‘gay Scrooge’ idea. It would revolve around a fictional gay nightclub owner and also be a musing on gay pop music and drag. Rudi Douglas, who composed the music for The Clinic, is a wonderful singer and impresario so it’d be great to make use of his talents. It’d be more majority comic than The Clinic but still have a heart.
And I’ve also got an idea for an epic play with lots of characters about hate, austerity and light, which would encompass LGBT as just one strand within its themes. At some point I’d like to finish my first novel too.
So lots of ideas, and it’s great being busy, it’s just getting them written – oh yeah, and finding the funding! But I’m enjoying life.
The Clinic is written by Patrick Cash and played at the King’s Head Theatre (Islington, London) from 24 to 29 August 2015.
The Clinic will be playing an extra date at the King’s Head on Monday 7th September, 9.15pm. Tickets:
Follow the link to the King's Head Theatre website: