In anticipation of this weeks sold out performance of In The Life, editor in chief of Polari Magazine is our guest blogger and tells us how the play came to life.
In the hidden underworld of 1950s, a secret language called Polari flourished. It was a deliciously cheeky secret code that allowed gay men and lesbians to communicate safely at a time when homosexuality in the British Isles was still illegal. A conviction for homosexual relations – then called “gross indecency” – could mean a prison sentence, or hormone treatment (which the great World War II codebreaker Alan Turing was subjected to by an ungrateful government). As said by one of the two Omee-Palones, the characters who guide the audience through In The Life, “Hilda Handcuffs trolled the eke of the streets, swishing her lallies over the munge of broken London, ready to lau her luppers on any queen in slap what was in the life.”
Polari was only known to the initiated, and it enabled them to talk openly about what they thought of the person sat next to them, what they did last night, and who they did it to. It shows how people made it through difficult times with inventiveness and humour and so was a wild, outrageous and inventive way to talk about sex, as well as to gossip and bitch. And that is exactly what this performance does as it celebrates an important part of gay social history.
I wrote the first draft of In The Life over the course of ten days, but in many ways it was a long time coming. The play was a project that grew out of the online magazine I edit, Polari Magazine, that from its launch set out to enable readers to learn about their heritage and to sustain a link between the present and the past. Talking about Polari gave form to that aim. In a series of videos, the wonderful Clementine, the Living Fashion Doll, showed Polari in use. For the magazine, Polari is not just a fun name, it is at the core of its identity and its ideals. Writing more about the importance of this language, and the part it played in the history of gay men and women in the 20th century, was a natural progression.
In The Life: A Comic Romp Through The History of Polari, is a play about how this secret language worked as well as where it came from. It’s part documentary, part comedy, part sketch show, and through its cast brings to the stage such characters as Kenneth Williams, Ian McKellen, Beryl Reid, Quentin Crisp, Mary Whitehouse and Margaret Thatcher. There are also glorious songs performed by the bubbly Champagne Charlie.
Celebrate LGBT History Month with Polari Magazine and the Deptford Lounge on Thursday 20th February with this exclusive performance. It’ll be bona to vada your dolly old eke!