When we first meet David (writer and performer David Patterson) he’s lying motionless on the floor with his eyes closed. He’s a handsome 30-something chap wearing sports kit and a pair of dangly earrings. What’s he doing on the floor? Is he okay?
Turns out he’s fine. As the house lights dim, David leaps up and hits the ground running. He’s a Glaswegian lad who developed an acute admiration for the late Queen when he was a little boy. His fascination with the monarch’s regal poise and ostentatious wardrobe was encouraged by his loving Gran, who allowed him to preside over teddy bear banquets pretending to be the Queen and wearing Gran’s fur coat.
Gran gave David a small bust of Her Maj and he has lived his life with the figure’s imaginary voice in his head guiding him – or at least attempting to do so. His responses to interjections from “Elizabeth” provide the structure for the show as he acknowledges and/or refutes her advice and critiques of his life choices.
This is a tale of self-discovery and acceptance, chiefly focusing on David’s late coming-out at St Andrews University, his relationship with first boyfriend James and a later lover Frasier, with whom he’s recently broken up.
The Old Queen’s Head is basically a coming-out story with a couple of relationship dramas attached. A few years ago I wrote a piece about the state of gay drama, for which I interviewed various industry names who knew their stuff. Most agreed that there was little point in re-telling the coming-out narrative unless you put an original twist on it. The one writer who disagreed was Russell T Davies, who said you could do a “plain” coming-out plot (or indeed anything) so long as it was wonderfully written.
Patterson’s play falls a little short of wonderful, but that’s no fault of his fine performance. He’s effortlessly personable and charming, engaging the audience from the outset and generating many laughs from others, if not myself.
I really enjoyed spending time in David’s company, but the stakes in his story aren’t high enough to give it the weight of something really meaningful. His various coming-outs go fine, his relationship with James fritters out without fireworks, and the split with Frasier isn’t much more impactful. There simply aren’t significant enough challenges for David, so we don’t get to explore the meatier facets of his character.
Patterson has mentioned in interviews that the script was inspired by real events in his life. Perhaps if he moved further away from biography and let his imagination roam free he could come up with a bigger and more rewarding vehicle for the appealing character he’s created.
After the play, we’re treated to a short speech from the theatre’s management about the increasing cost of keeping the lights on, and an appeal for donations to help out. The Lion & Unicorn is a fabulous little space and very worth supporting, so I’d encourage you to pay it a visit even if this particular production doesn’t shine particularly brightly.
Written by: David Patterson
Directed by: Ben Anderson
The Old Queen’s Head plays at Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 23 September. More information available here.