As a massive Potterhead, I had been really excited to watch this one, and the show absolutely exceeded (my) expectations. The story revolves around Jack (Alex Britt) discovering and coming to terms with being gay during his teenager years, and trying to navigate being a gay teenager in an unsupportive environment. Adding to this, he’s in love with his best friend Ollie (Martin Sarreal), who doesn’t know that Jack is gay.
I absolutely need to credit the writer (Robert Holtom) for their incredible writing, and for the genius use of Harry Potter references throughout. From the more serious metaphor of Dumbledore being the only LGBT+ character, and his death, the conversations and internal reflections this causes Jack to have over the course of the show is brilliantly written. This results in a rather emotional moment wherein Jack declares “I’ve been falling for so long, just like Dumbledore. It’s time I hit the ground." The show is a carefully crafted emotional rollercoaster and I enjoyed being taken on the ride.
On a side note, the show does address, joke and clearly disagrees with the comments made by Harry Potter creator and writer J.K. Rowling. However, whilst referencing Harry Potter every so often, the show actually has nothing to do with the franchise, and focuses entirely on Jack’s story. The storyline is a bittersweet one, as we watch Jack being ripped to shreds by an unloving society on a number of times, as he merely tries to live his truth. Although he’s often surrounded by loved ones, he’s forced to hide who he really is, which is unfortunately a heart-breaking reality for so many.
Whilst the show is mostly hilarious, the casual moments of homophobia are clear and this comes as a reminder of how often it’s accepted or ignored in reality. For example - Jack’s father has an aversion to TV host Graham Norton claiming it’s because "he’s Irish", stupid insults used in school by Jack’s peers, and the unquestioned bullying of an openly queer older man in the neighbourhood. It’s these smaller moments that help anchor the narrative and the writing does this really well.
Without spoiling the show, it’s when we see Jack have a second chance that the show really takes off, and this is done with a brilliant loophole. The show is self-aware and often makes witty jokes at its self, which gains laughs from the audience frequently. The show is really strong and with the extremely talented cast of three, it becomes an outstanding piece of theatre.
Alex Britt as Jack does an exceptional job, and his comedic timing and dialogue delivery were both lovely to watch. He really embodies Jack, and his performance is so vulnerable, raw and genuinely moving. Martin Sarreal and Charlotte Dowding play a number of different roles, and do so with such ease. Martin plays Ollie as a tortured and quiet child, and this brings a more grounded and mature performance, which becomes really moving towards the end of the show. This is contrasted with the hilarious role of Martin (Jack’s father).
Charlotte Dowding steals the spotlight whenever she is on stage with her ability to bring so much personality to her characters. Playing more defined characters; she is often the funniest person on stage, and surprisingly is given the show’s deepest and strongest lines. As French teacher ‘Madame Dubois’, she is a riot and her accent and exaggerated body language draws a laugh from the audience whenever she is on. But it’s her split role between Jack’s mother and Jack’s best friend Gemma, that she really has a chance to shine. As Jack's mother, she perfectly portrays the transition of becoming more accepting of Jack's sexuality, which is really touching to be witness to. As Gemma, Dowding portrays an incredibly moving character arc as an insecure young, black woman trying to navigate a world of insecurities in which she can be subject to hatred from society.
Another highlight of the show is that it doesn't shy away from getting brutally honest and ugly. The discussion between Jack and Ollie about internal discrimination in the community helps shift the play from a more formal coming out story, and it is honestly refreshing to see this being addressed. This also ties in with a rather horrific moment of sexual assault in a gay club in London, in which Jack is unable to understand if this is normal and goes along with it. The moment is brushed off and never addressed again, which makes it even more unsettling, as it's a nod to the way in which society unintentionally and passively allow assault to happen on a daily basis.
The show allows for a lot of character development in all of the characters, and it’s great to see Jack become more comfortable in his own skin, and begin to stand up for himself and others around him. While he chooses to forgive and embrace others, he still begins to understand that what happened to him over the years was not okay. The choreography of the show during certain transitions is beautifully done, with a synchronised movement by the three actors. This is accompanied by a mix of theme music from Harry Potter and dimmer lights, which creates a stunning environment.
The story closes on a really moving and positive note of looking forward to the future, and how the world is slowly changing. There’s a particularly incredible moment where the audience is brought into the play with the use of smart staging and a Vicar, which added to the sense of empowerment. Most importantly, we see Jack accept and become proud that he is a puff. A hufflepuff.
Dumbledore is SO Gay runs at Southwark Playhouse until 23rd September. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by David Jenson