Let Me Look At You ****


Pleasance Courtyard


till 28th Aug

Theatre, in its most basic purpose, is storytelling; it is crafting a narrative and communicating it to an audience and showing them the world through different eyes even if only for an hour, the footsteps of another life echoing across the stage, words evoking events never experienced almost as if they were memories half remembered by the listener.

A partnership of playwright Godfrey Hamilton and actor Mark Pinkosh, storytelling is a craft which Starving Artists have been refining for over thirty years and having previously won Fringe First awards for both Road Movie and Viper’s Opium their return to Edinburgh with Let Me Look At You is long overdue.

Sweeping through fifty years of progress and anger in an hour and taking the audience from the corner of Old Compton Road in Soho in the present day on a whirlwind tour of the highlights and lowlights of the fight for gay liberation across the world from the barest acceptance of decriminalisation to equal marriage, genial guide Pinkosh is comforting when the ride is tough, resigned when dealing with double standards and bigotry and never less than fiercely proud despite his weariness: “Being gay is exhausting – all the show tunes you have to learn!”

In this year which marks a half century since the passing of the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (“Because we’re all in this together, right?”) there has already been a great deal of material on the subject, both drama and documentary, yet it is a very different matter to be looked in the eye and hear personal testimony from a living witness of profound and moving change.

His eyes glancing upon the beautiful man in his leather jacket and good jeans leaning against his motorbike, Pinkosh is almost compelled to share with him and the audience his accumulated wisdom, insight and perspective, carrying the anxieties of a youth when it was “illegal to be who we are,” bringing the pain to the fore then dissipating it with a quip, letting it wash away into the past where it belongs.

Refusing to talk about AIDS other than the briefest list of losses and the comment that his father lost fewer friends in Vietnam than Pinkosh lost in that blighted decade, there is undiminished wrath aplenty for Theresa May and her new Best Friends Forever the Democratic Unionist Party, founded by Ian “Save Ulster from Sodomy” Paisley, but if there is an orange elephant in the room it is the tyrant whose name is never mentioned yet who is placed to roll back decades of progress on the whim of a tweet.

Slipping effortlessly through the thoughts of each passerby in a performance at times playful Let Me Look At You is a reflective piece defined by its context and somewhat different from what is expected from Starving Artists but considering their previous narrative work, the heartbreaking Take Me With You and the betrayed fury of Road Movie with its battle cry “I want a cure and I want my friends back!” if anyone has earned the right to look back it is they, and in a culture obsessed with youth it is a rare privilege to bask in the presence of a veteran of a war still fought in too many countries around the world.

Michael Flett