March 7, 2022 Rhiannon Ingle

Q&A: A Partnership

Hello and welcome to this brand new Q&A series where we ask the weirdest, wildest and most wonderful questions to the brilliant people behind some of the fabulous shows going on here at The Edge.

This week, we’ve been lucky enough to chat with award-winning playwright from Paper Mug Theatre, Rory Thomas-Howes, all about his sell-out hit debut show, A Partnership, set to grace the walls of The Edge later this week.

Following the lives of two characters, Ally and Zach, the relationship comedy-drama questions whether it is possible for two men in modern-day London to have a long-lasting, monogamous relationship.

Serving as an incredible introspection into the changing face of homophobia, Ally and Zach are forced to have a conversation five years overdue in order to finally reach an important decision about their future together.

So, first things first, what exactly inspired A Partnership?

I watched Beginning by David Eldridge in 2018. The play deals with two people at the end of a party, connecting in real-time in one location. I realised I’d never seen a play that just allowed two gay people to be on stage, in a long-term relationship, working out issues like any other couple.

There’s space for plays about the AIDS crisis, coming out, sexuality and discovering yourself – but what about what happens afterwards? What about five years, ten years, twenty years in? What’s interesting about those relationships? I was also inspired by stories of friends and my own personal history of internalised homophobia.

We’re very indoctrinated by the societies we grow up in and often, until it’s pointed out to us, we don’t realise our own prejudices – particularly our prejudices against ourselves.

How did you go about developing the characters of Ally and Zach?

The characters share a lot in common – first and foremost and, above all else, I needed them to be a believable couple with a believable love story. The play doesn’t work if you’re not rooting for the survival of their relationship.

Once I’d sketched out the details and brief backstories, I wrote pages and pages of dialogue between them. I’d say probably 10% of that actually made it into the play – it was just useful to find their dynamic and separate values, as well as finding the rhythm of speech for a couple who have been together for five years.

And, of course, the actors and creatives working on this project bring so much of their own lives to the play – I actually played Zach in the original version at Edinburgh Fringe, and when Sasha took over, we did some minor rewrites on the character to really link Zach to the performer.

What are the main themes of the play and why are they so relevant today?

We don’t really have a template for long-term gay relationships. It’s not something we see in media very often and, as sexuality and concepts like monogamy and marriage become more fluid in today’s society, we tend to avoid stories about gay people in committed relationships altogether.

I wanted to create a play that explored what it means to try and be ‘normal,’ what that word means today and how striving for ‘normal’ often means losing what makes you special. Internalised homophobia is a huge problem in the gay community and not one that we talk about often. I think the trauma of simply being queer can be forgotten – we’re nowhere near being fully accepted in the world, or even in the UK, so there’s still a great deal of subconscious queer shame that causes us to act out and struggle with our own identities.

Both Zach and Ally have chosen how they want to present themselves to the world, and to each other, but neither is fully comfortable with who they are – so my question is, how do we get past that shame? How do we accept ourselves fully for who we are?

There is a really interesting relationship between comedy and tragedy in the play. How did you navigate that relationship between such contrasting genres?

Be funny until you can’t be funny anymore. People, especially British people, aren’t naturally predisposed towards misery – the worse things get, the more we tend to smile, joke, avoid the topic. So, when we stop laughing in the play, it’s because we can’t avoid the problems anymore.

It’s very easy to write a big misery-guts play and have your characters fling themselves dramatically to the floor in wretched agony – but it’s a lot harder to make the ​audience laugh in the middle of a messy argument. I wanted it to feel like a real conversation, with all the weird, funny things people do when they’re arguing.

So, if Ally and Zach could give us their best words to live by – what would they tell us?

Talk to your partner. Tell them what’s going on with you. Accept that your relationship will grow and change as you do, and trying to hide from your problems will only make them more visible.

And don’t buy a pug to end an argument…

OK, so it’s clear to say that we could all learn a little something from Ally and Zach, and A Partnership in general. Whether that’s about communication, honesty, or a cautionary tale advising you not to buy a dog in the hopes of resolving a fight – I’m sure we could all take something great away from this play – be it an evening of laughs, some socio-political education or just Rory’s whimsical wise words…

Rory’s play, A Partnership, will come to The Edge Friday 11th March starting at 7:30 pm so, if this sounds like your cup of tea then head over to our box office, grab some tickets while you can, mark your diary and start your weekend the right way…

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