As a play, Of Kith and Kin is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing: it takes the current surrogacy laws as a starting point for the plot, but the play’s real centre is this unique moment in gay history we’re living in now. We have two different generations of gay men who have grown up on opposite sides of the legislative track.
So Daniel grew up kissing in the shadows of bars with blacked out windows and, Oli, who is 14 years younger, wants nothing more than a white wedding with bridesmaids and then lanterns released into the night sky. That Daniel looks back on the past with fondness – “the good old days”- is beyond Oli’s comprehension.
The idea for the play came from a conversation with friends about wanting children, and how personally, I’ve gone back and forth on the question for the last 10 years of my adult life. Being gay there’s an extra dimension of needing to “ask permission” in contrast to fertile straight couples who can go ahead without any questions or scrutiny.
So I thought about an older gay character who, not unlike me, is over asking straight people permission for how he lives his life, and for whom a primary condition of the surrogacy process would be keeping it out the system.
The characters and structure presented themselves very quickly; it was a question of getting to know them really well and putting them in the three moments the play shows us and just letting them be – in a strange way, the play wrote itself and has undergone the fewest redrafts of anything I’ve written. Audiences are watching draft four, and there have been no major structural changes in between its iterations. The three acts are tonally very different, but they belong to the same play.
I write in a very precise way. Dialogue, for me, is like music, and I spend a great deal of time ensuring pace and structure are inherent in the dialogue. And that, line by line, the play delivers.
The majority of the play was written on the top floor of Brooklyn Library a couple of years ago; it was a cold March in New York and the local homeless population came to take shelter in the library. It occurred to me then that many writers take shelter in their plays, and I can’t let this be the case for me. I write from a very personal place.
I believe it’s my job to stare hard into the light and peel off my veil of self-deception, to ask myself difficult questions, to wrestle with uncomfortable truths. It’s really about making conscious the unconscious and although that process is exposing and invasive, it’s worth it, especially when I hear audiences grappling with the play’s ending.
So Of Kith and Kin puts a pin in gay relationships now. It’s about who’s in charge, and asks questions about love and masculinity: there’s a generation of gay men who have been wounded by their place in history, raised in the shadow of shame, who we now punish because they can’t love us the way we want them to.
I write with gritted teeth humour; it’s a very truthful and peek-through-your-fingers kind of play…and the good news is it’s funny (check out #OfKithandKin to see what our audiences are saying). We’ve just finished a month run in Sheffield, and it’s been so moving to sit in the Gods and listen to the raucous laughter from the audience switch to gasps and pin-drop silences. We’ve had the odd walk out too. But that’s cool – it’s a play about getting fucked in the arse (in more ways than one) that stares you straight in the eyes.
If you like your theatre tied up in a neat bow you might not like this play, but if you like theatre that asks more questions than it answers, that celebrates the messy joy of love and life with humour and heart then I think you might enjoy our play. We’d love to entertain you with our story.