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When it first came out in 1968 Colin Spencer’s Spitting Image was a ground-breaking play – homosexuality had only been decriminalised the previous year. Described in the programme notes as the UK’s first ever openly gay play, the comedy still carries a resonance today.

The initial premise is wonderfully absurd. Tom and Gary’s relationship is on the rocks. Tom refuses to accept that what appears to be Gary’s ever increasing pot-belly is actually their future child. He only realises the truth when Gary gives birth to their son, Andrew. From that moment on their lives are changed forever as they are constantly on the run from the authorities, who object to this most unnatural birth.

Right from the start the audience is gripped both by their plight and their pursuant domestic quarrelling. Spencer succeeds in turning what might at first appear a ridiculous and exclusively gay farce into a universal comedy. Forget for one moment that Andrew’s mother is actually a man and you have the all-too familiar elements of a working-class couple struggling to bring up their child on a low income. It could have been written by Pinter or Bennett. Even the couple’s increasing activism has parallels with animal rights as much as the gay rights movement. On one level the play is political polemic on the other a kitchen sink drama.

Both Gareth Corke’s pacey direction, with a great soundtrack and constantly transforming stage, and the acting is strong. Neil Chinneck as Tom and Alan Grant as Gary make a convincing couple, while Paul Giddings excels in a variety of comic roles from the sinister home office official to the doctor who carries out Andrew’s birth. His portrayal of the scientist who carries out clinical tests on Gary and Andrew has more than a touch of Dr Strangelove about it.

Mixing humour with tension to great effect from start to finish Spitting Image is well worth the visit, even if you’re not an anarchic homosexual mother.

Spitting Image is playing at the Kings Head Theatre, Islington from 2 – 27 August. Tickets are £15 - £25. Tel: 0207 226 8561 I


Theatre Review Spitting Image
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