WHAT starts as a tale about a rather amusing voyage of personal discovery ends up dark and ultimately tragic. A story of and about our time.
Welcome to the world of Mark – In Conversation With Graham Norton. A 17 year old young man (and a virgin) who looks back on his sexual awakening and assesses where he stands. He does this by talking to Graham Norton, not in the flesh but by looking at his picture that sits atop the radio in his room.
At first, it is all wit and fun as he reveals his love of well-ripped men (the pottery teacher at school, the man on the tube), his first love – crush – at the age of eight (Paul Jackson), and his initiation into the world of messy masturbation.
An awkward conversation with Dad is amusingly told, father literally running for the hills after Mark says he is ‘spending a lot of time masturbating at the moment’. As are awkward moments with his sister Katie (‘a bitch’) and Mum, one involving Mark being caught sharing an embarrassing moment with the family cat (oh dear). Let’s just say, the cat was not well too pleased while mother was stunned into silence.
There is also a funny tale about being unable to get off the tube because of a sustained bulge in the trouser compartment – his dislike of ‘titties’ and a failure to understand why men often fail to find a woman’s sweet spot (you know what I mean).
Yet the more Mark reveals, the more disturbing his story – his experiences – becomes.
There is bullying at school, spitefulness from his sister (a twin at that) and he is eventually ostracised. Friendless (the cat has also given up on him), he withdraws into himself spending most of his non-school time in his room speaking to Norton (‘he’s so kind’) and recalling encounters that are no more than figments of his imagination.
Biblical-like experiences and even a ride on the back of a dinosaur with Dermot O’Leary. He also highlights the contradictions that eat away at him – the fact that while he loves men, the thought of sex scares him.
Lonely, riddled with self-doubt and in desperation, he turns to the internet and joins a ‘Me and You’ group of people who feel similarly rejected – victimised – by society. Either because of their sexuality or physical appearance. He befriends Georgie. But it all ends tragically as the rules of the group demand.
In Conversation With Graham Norton is a brave play from the pen of Simon Perrott that reinforces the fact that society (perpetuated by social media) still stigmatises non-conformists. Jay Parsons is magnificent as Mark. One moment, a tender vulnerable individual. The next, through the use of a microphone, the voice of an anxious Dad asking questions he would rather not.
The sparseness of the stage (armchair, glass of water, radio, signed picture of Norton and a disco glitter ball hanging from the ceiling for the moments Mark dances with an imaginary partner) puts the spotlight firmly on Mark. Rightly so, it’s his story. A story we should all take on board. Inclusion, not exclusion.
The play is well directed by Joseph Winters and produced by Connor J Matthews at Batavia Productions, a company dedicated to raising issues about key social issues. Admirable.
In Conversation With Graham Norton is a welcome play that despite the plentiful sprinkling of good humour, makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Maybe the great man himself (Norton, that is) should pitch up at The Hope Theatre in London’s Islington and view it. I think he would like it – a lot (happy to buy him a ticket). It runs until January 26.