by Dora Bodrogi
Forget trying to get your Friday Forty tickets to Cursed Child. Dumbledore is So Gay is a play so good you won’t need a philosopher’s stone to give you life.
Meet our hero, Jack – a teenage boy who hates French, got sorted into Hufflepuff, and who is in love with his best friend Ollie. Life is not going to be easy for him growing up gay during the heyday of Harry Potter. His story is told in three acts.
In act one, we go through the original timeline. We begin way back when Jack was 12 and it was customary to use ‘gay’ as a slur. He has a crush on his best friend Ollie, who convinces him to take classes he hates and doesn’t do well at. He laments the fact that the only gay character in Harry Potter, Dumbledore, (spoiler!) dies. His friends aren’t as into Harry Potter as he is anyway, and he is bullied relentlessly when he’s outed. His parents aren’t great communicators and switch away from Graham Norton because he’s, you know, one of those overly friendly, well-groomed men. Things get worse, Jack hurts his other best friend Gemma by using her as a beard, Ollie is clearly struggling with his own sexuality and feelings for Jack, and the local, elderly gay man Norman’s windows are bricked. Jack finds solace in spending fun but irresponsible weekends in a London nightclub, then crying on a bench in Trafalgar Square after the tragic news of Ollie’s suicide.
Hang on. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione has a Time Turner that she can use to go back in time and fix everything and save everyone. Luckily, Jack has one, too! Three turns should do it, and we find ourselves back at the start and Jack does all he can to protect Ollie from everything that led to killing himself. It’s better. Jack can handle the bullying better, Expelliarmus-ing slurs like a wizarding boss. He can come out to Ollie. Though Ollie dates Gemma for a while, they eventually have a chance meeting at a nightclub and start seeing each other. In secret. Heartbreak is still on the horizon as Ollie cheats on Jack and he learns about the pitfalls of a hook-up culture that doesn’t suit him but is the result of a bigger culture of homophobia and all that entails. He realises if he actually wants his happy ending, he has to change everyone’s minds for the better.
So he uses his Time Turner to go back in time again, this time not only focusing on Ollie but everyone he meets. He doesn’t let hate slide, he educates his parents and doesn’t let them change the channel when there’s something gay on telly. He and Ollie even have a lovely – albeit brief – teenage romance. He does a lot of activism, and when he grows up he has a much healthier attitude to dating (I’m looking at you, Grindr hook-ups with Harry Potter kinks). He even reconnects with Ollie, and a much more confident Gemma. Norman still passes away, but at the ripe old age of 92, he dies a legend who has made the world a better place, just like Jack is trying to.
Will Jack decide to travel back in time again to fix even more issues beyond himself or will this be his happy ending? There is still so much to do after all, in this truly magical production. And “magical” here is not just a cliché adjective. The play is flawless.
The story sits at the perfect meeting point of Harry Potter and LGBTQ+ life experiences, and it is a great depiction of what it was like to be a gay teen in the ‘00s in general. Remember the outrage when J. K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay? Now there is outrage he is the only (extra-canonically) confirmed queer character in the whole Potter universe! Jack’s story is a relatable and accurate little time capsule of coming-of-age that Gen Z already isn’t experiencing in the same way.
The acting is precise and polished. With scene changes faster than a lightning bolt, it has to be. Alex Britt as Jack is enigmatic, adorable, and the wide-eyed Hufflepuff hero we need, with bravery that would put any Gryffindor to shame. His presence is captivating but his portrayal of all the highs, lows, and the awkwardness in-between of growing up as gay is nuanced and makes the character all the more relatable. Charlotte Dowding shines brightly as Jack’s best friend Gemma, his mother Sally, his French teacher Mme Dubois and a whole host of other characters. So does Max Percy with his layered portrayal of Ollie, Jack’s dad Martin (who is not exactly in touch with his emotions), and his hook-ups in different timelines. These three remarkable, young actors can slip in and out of their various characters in a smooth and practiced fashion that is absolutely demanded by such a fast- paced narrative.
Director Tom Wright and movement director Rachael Nanyonjo deserve applause for their clear visions that bring an already brilliant text to life, which is indented with a few well-chosen, meta-theatrical comments on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Above all, Robert Holtom triumphs as the playwright of Dumbledore is So Gay, a play that shows that there’s no need for big Hollywood budget or dazzling special effects. Three strong actors, three wooden boxes, a Time Turner, and of course, good writing that speaks for itself is all that’s needed.
Dumbledore is So Gay runs through 1 March.
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