Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Noel Coward Outsmarts Justin Trudeau
The recent apologies to the LGBT community on behalf of the Canadian government are certainly admirable. But one wishes they might be more comprehensive and look towards the future, rather than the past. Interestingly, the apology at this point has not extended so far as to offer compensation to those who were victims of the Bawdy House Laws during the 1981 Toronto bath house raids; men who were publicly exposed for being gay ‘perverts’ and in some cases jailed as found-ins. I find this interesting because -- although straight culture seems comfortable with granting queers civil rights -- straights are still not too comfortable with the gay ‘lifestyle.’ No one has ever really defined the gay lifestyle -- though in most people’s minds it seems to have something to do with ascots, extravagant vacations, and an effeminate drawl. However the real gay lifestyle is this: honestly admitting that a separation exists between love and sex, and that the two don’t always happen at the same time -- and what’s more; that's perfectly okay.
In terms of the ‘gay lifestyle,’ Trudeau (and most present day heterosexual culture) still trails behind Noel Coward. I treated myself recently to the new movie release of Present Laughter brilliantly directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel and starring Kevin Kline (the entire cast was superlative). The play -- which recently closed on Broadway -- is often dismissed as a trifle. But it is actually one of Coward’s three great comedies; plays that are not only witty and touching explorations of human love and loneliness, but have a particularly modern attitude to sex.
Present Laughter offers us not only a funny and touching portrait of a man who has an irritating tendency to perform his own life, but the leading character Garry Essendine reveals, in one of his several hilarious speeches, that sex is ‘over-rated.’ What Garry (with two ‘R’s -- he is a star!) means is that we should just stop worrying about sex, and instead start having lots of it. All of the characters in the play, married or not (just as in Coward’s two other comic masterpieces Private Lives and Hay Fever) are engaged in different varieties of promiscuous activity outside of the marital bed. Essendine implores all of his friends, essentially, to -- calm down, forget about ‘sacred institutions’, and have a good-old time, carnally.
In the post-1950s sexual culture we now live in -- where even gay men get flushed and embarrassed by their own profundity when describing the precious holiness of matrimony -- it’s refreshing to know that Noel Coward would have had us do precisely the opposite (something present day gays promised to do but never have) open up relationships, and ‘queer’ marriage.
Shocking ideas, eh?
In 1942 they were shocking for Coward’s audiences, and here they are, shocking us yet again today.
Everything old is suddenly new again.