Scene of the Titans

A musical about a gay Northern Irish rugby team hits Edinburgh

Scene of the Titans is a musical about a gay rugby team from Northern Ireland – you couldn’t make it up. And writer Tom Foley didn’t. Foley is a previous member of the Ulster Titans squad, Northern Ireland’s first rugby team set up specifically to encourage gay and bisexual men into the sport.

Currently an English Literature student at the University of St Andrews, Foley based the play on his experiences with the team, charting their origins and unlikely attempt at competing in the Bingham Cup, the world championship of gay rugby. This when the majority of the team had never even played the sport before.

Now brought to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Foley’s excellent script and accomplished songs have been nominated in the Musical Theatre Matters Awards for both Best New Book and Best New Lyrics.

His protagonist Terry (Luke Hier) forms the rugby team as a means of getting to know Colin, a military man he meets one night at the Kremlin, a real-life gay bar in Belfast. Of course, as the plot progresses, the Titans become more than just an elaborate chat-up ploy.

The story is told by Terry through a series of flashbacks. His retrospective memory is selective, however, and the meta-theatrical references from bar owner and drag queen Sophia Bootie (played on alternate nights by Dario Cacioppo and Randy Grab), who gets all the best songs and lines, keeps the irony at the forefront. 'All this fabulous choreography has me parched.'

The Kremlin becomes the team’s adopted clubhouse, and is the source of the theme of comradeship that runs throughout the play. The Titans are accepting of anyone, no matter what their background or sexual orientation. ‘Playing for the other team’ is the obvious joke, but the characters all demonstrate a need to belong, and the ‘brotherhood’ that being part of a team can offer.

Foley is careful to demonstrate that the most liberal-minded people can also be the least accepting, and there’s poignancy in the loss of a player and friend who can’t put the team before his own feelings.

Kate Andrews’ direction is excellent: the musical moves swiftly and there is never a dip in pace. The choreography is very strong, too, and the chorus add much both in stage presence and in supporting the solo singing performances. The harmonies, in particular, are very impressive for a non-professional company.

In one or two cases, Hier’s solo songs could be stronger, but purely because his soft voice is lost against the chorus; a little more volume and projection is all that is needed.

‘Let The Boy Get The Boy’ is an affecting duet between Terry’s wingman and best friend Cillian (Ashton Montgomery) on the disillusionment of love's fairy-tale. But the camp-factor is ramped up to the highest setting in ‘My God Is Gay’, a full cast performance that lyrically is about being open to whoever you are and rejecting religious bigotry.

The song is performed in response to a humiliating dismissal from a statutory funding body representative who objects to the team on personal principle.

The black, gay, half-naked, half in-drag Jesus man-handled by the chorus and draped with a feather boa is a confrontational assault on the beliefs held by the traditionalist right. It’s also an overt challenge to anybody insisting that they have a right to comment on anyone’s partners, friends or lifestyle.

Foley’s writing heads off any potential controversy with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, with lines such as ‘not only are you blaspheming, but you’re doing it in verse’, but also demonstrating a knowingness that this may not be to everyone’s tastes.

In fact, the strength of the play comes from a deliberate focus on team dynamics and relationships between the characters, looking at something deeper than the stereotypical ‘gay, loud and proud’ message.

Foley does not argue that homophobic opposition is not something that gay people face regularly. However, post RENT and in the 21st century, the writer shows that gay relationships can be discussed without the heavy-handed gravity of typical ‘gay-drama’ subjects of AIDS, abuse and homophobia dominating the script.

Scene of the Titans successfully presents the multitude of problems that affect all kinds of relationships, be they familial, platonic or sexual. A funny, slick production that offers something more than ‘issue’-driven drama, the producers of Scene of the Titans should make a Northern Ireland performance a priority.

Scene of the Titans will be appearing as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until August 29.