I’m old, cold and weary, but still rattled by Romeo
As I watched a play about Romeo and Juliet grown old, around me the silence began to break with the low hum of sympathy, the recognition of loss. Tears spilled
Panti, aka Rory O’Neill, argued that homophobia exists in all of us. How could it not, he asked, given the society we come from? We should not take offence at being asked to acknowledge this
I prepared to run the gauntlet past the shuddering, windswept bins, over puddles with aspirations to be lakes. I found my hat, closed the door on the whistle and howl of a suburban tempest, and faced into the weather.
January. Christ, was I relieved to see the back of that bleak month. Tears and rain and sore throats and rusting bicycles, blown bulbs and lost gloves and missing keys and the cat curled up asleep in the fruit bowl while the small house was pulled asunder in search of a missing shin pad, just before the text came to say that the pitch was waterlogged.
I look lousy. I haven’t had my roots done for months. I go to the supermarket with my hood up. I’m awash with rain and cold and the dogged, persistent demands of routine. I fall asleep with my reading glasses on, wake up scandalised that it’s morning already.
I headed into town, glasses streaming. I wondered if I should have obeyed the rain, stayed at home and spent the evening hoovering cat hairs off the satsumas.
Romeo and Juliet grow up
We picked up our tickets, joined the audience in Dublin’s Project Theatre to see A Tender Thing, which, using Shakespeare’s original lines – though not necessarily in the right order – explores Romeo and Juliet’s relationship had they lived on, had they procreated, had they endured the inglorious ache and grind of ageing.
The auditorium was silent. On stage, Romeo and Juliet occupied a disconcertingly ordinary suburban chamber. They were old and thin, facing illness and death. Alongside the continuing tenderness, the abiding affection and the shared memories, there existed the possibility of a future devoid of dignity.
In their room there were photograph albums, a baby’s bootees, a beautiful yellow dress, a urine-soaked nightie. Romeo placed Juliet on her bed like a broken-winged bird.
Around me the silence began to break with the low hum of sympathy, the recognition of loss. Tears spilled.
I’d read about the play, decided I was too old and cold and weary to be moved. And yes, it’s not everyone’s cup of hemlock, and sure, you can argue the toss about the concept, and there are well-trained pundits around to do just that.
But the sheer humanity of the piece, the bravery of the actors, the exploration of passionate love in a marginalised community, the elderly, often confined to a desexualised, neutralised existence, was deeply affecting.
Afterwards, in the ladies, a long queue of women blew their noses. I attempted to paint my eye make-up back on in the crowded mirror.
I went home then and had a glass of wine to help me get over the surprise of a theatre show rattling my bones. Funny though, you can wait a long time for a, performer or performance to stir you, to compel you to examine your world, and then, like sooty buses on a wet January morning, two come along at once.
I found that a friend had sent me a link to Panti Bliss’s appearance on the Abbey stage as part of The Noble Call, an initiative that each evening invites a different performer, historian or writer to give a personal response to the National Theatre’s current production, The Risen People, through word or song.
As the controversy about what does or does not constitute homophobia smoulders away online, and RTÉ writes large cheques, the renowned drag queen Panti, aka Rory O’Neill, gave an eloquent and moving oration.
O’Neill described how, after decades of “trying to be the best gay possible”, he too can still recognise traces of homophobia in himself. He still checks himself at pedestrian crossings, anticipating a lash of verbal abuse, or worse, from a passing car. Still looks down at himself and asks, “What is it about me that gives the gay away?”
His aim, it appeared to me, was not to silence debate but to ask why we are still questioning whether rights deemed appropriate to one section of our community should be denied to another.
Homophobia, he argued, is not about being thrown into prison or herded on to a cattle truck; it exists in all of us, on some level or another, in our actions and our inaction. How could it not, he asked, given the society we come from?
We should not, in my opinion, take offence at being asked to acknowledge this.
Outside the kitchen window it started to lash. My mascara looked a little watery too. What’s that phrase our teachers drummed into us, when the elements echo and magnify the mood?