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“Loving Her, Loving Him”: a new play about politics, sex and what really goes on at party conferences

By Ross Semple

Being National Playwright in Residence to LGBT History Month means I think a lot about sex, history and politics. Sex is always exciting. History can be. But for a long time, politics had been pretty dull. The Labour Party under Blair/Brown or the Conservative Party under Cameron didn’t really seem all that different. And then along comes Jeremy Corbyn championing a return to Socialist policies from the 1980s, there’s a referendum in Scotland that draws a whole new generation of young people into politics and a referendum in the UK that changes the future of the country forever. It feels like politics matters again, even if politicians don’t.

To start to explore this, I had one central idea for a play: two closeted Tory MPs have an affair in the 1980s conducted solely by making love in hotel rooms at Conservative Party Conferences. I could use the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher as a metaphor for the ups and downs in their relationship. I wanted it to be a real love-hate toxic love affair. So, I created Charlie Bankhurst, a self-made man, a Yorkshire Tory, a proper old school closet case, who leads a double life. And his lover, Anthony Farringdon, an Etonian Tory from the Home Counties who starts out working in the Civil Service. I lock them in hotel rooms between 1975 and 1987 and literally blow them up in 1984, when the hotel they are staying in is hit by a terrorist attack. These two incredibly different people take each other to the edge of self-destruction in an intense, though at times very funny, sequence of events.

Having completed that story, I didn’t feel like I was done with the characters. I wanted to put them into a modern context and see what that would do to their relationship, and I wanted to say something about politics now. There are lots of similarities between Thatcher and Corbyn in terms of how they as outsiders became leaders of their parties, their strong relationships with ordinary party members and their belief in ideological politics over the pragmatism. Anthony and Charlie are reborn as Labour politicians in 2008 and go through their intense love affair again, but this time with Corbyn as the backdrop. The society in which they live has changed a lot and so the course of their relationship changes too. I’ve added a third character to keep the mix fresh and to explore issues of equal marriage, monogamy and cyber anarchy. It’s both very different, and very similar all at the same time.

And I finally get to shrug off history and move into the future with the final scene and do a little of bit of prediction. It’s June 2022 and Parliament has just been found a new home outside London in Manchester Town Hall. My two lovers meet here to decide whether to get back together or not. It’s the only scene of the play that isn’t in the anonymous and slightly claustrophobic space of a hotel bedroom. No spoilers, but suffice to say, it isn’t an easy decision.

The plays premieres at The Kings Arms, Salford from 6-9 September 2017. Advance tickets (£10) from here

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Words by Stephen M Hornby