Mike Britton’s set for E.V. Crowe’s new play is a minimalist modern kitchen: table; chairs; blonde wood units. The floor, however, is marked out like a school gym. This in part reminds us that while all the action takes place in the homes of the protagonists, the context is much broader. It also fits the style of the play, which knocks arguments back and forth like a ball in a sports game and spirals out of control when one team member questions the rules.
The hero of the title is Danny (Liam Garrigan): a charismatic and much-loved primary school teacher, who is gay. When we meet him, he appears sunny, charming and well-adjusted, but he tells us early on that he has experienced violent homophobia – and this informs his suddenly maverick behaviour later in the play. Danny lives with Joe (Tim Steed) and the two are awaiting approval for adoption. Danny’s vocation as a teacher and hopes of being a father are hugely significant: he wants to encourage the next generation to be more tolerant and open. But then when his straight colleague Jamie (Daniel Mays) is called “gay” by a seven-year-old and reacts with a peculiar level of hysteria, Danny takes matters into his own hands and tells his class that he is gay. Is he right to do so? What consequences may this have?
Crowe raises some very important points. What should we tell children about sexuality, and when? How do we encourage tolerance and dispel prejudice? How liberal are we when pushed? Danny’s husband Joe comes out with some surprising views, particularly when he feels that the couple’s adoption hopes might be put in jeopardy. Crowe also shows how other motives intervene: Jamie’s jealousy of Danny’s creativity and popularity as a teacher colours his behaviour. And her style is deliberately heightened, underscoring the play’s querying of what constitutes “normal”.
Nonetheless, it still feels rather too schematic. The effort all the characters are making to become parents shouldn’t feel bolted on, but it does. And the supporting characters, particularly Jamie’s wife Lisa (Susannah Wise), feel undernourished and insubstantial.
Jeremy Herrin’s production, however, is riveting, led by two gripping central performances. Daniel Mays is tremendous as Jamie: funny, awkward, dangerously volatile and near deranged by the end. Liam Garrigan as Danny is charming, relaxed and effortlessly upbeat. But Garrigan also subtly suggests the downside of Danny’s crusading zeal and the unintended impact on those around him of his heroic stand.