Kane Taylor reflects on his play which traverses the difficult recent history of LGBT+ rights, He Never Married, for the 2020 Durham Drama Festival.

Over the past seventy years, the movement for LGBT+ rights has undeniably advanced leaps and bounds, with victories for queer people being won in tearing down discriminatory legislation and establishing protections for this minority community. However, issues of equality and discrimination clearly still present themselves in contemporary Britain, with reports of hate crime increasing significantly in recent years. He Never Married revisits this long and difficult road towards equality through the lifetimes of those who lived through its progression, and a new generation freed from the fear of blanket criminalisation and state-endorsed discrimination.

I took the initial concept for this play after having discovered an article some time ago detailing the secret correspondence of two gay soldiers during the Second World War, whose love affair was rediscovered years after their deaths. An incomplete portrait of their romance throughout the years is beautifully narrated through their letters, as is the fierce prejudice that was held for queer people at this time. This was a period in history where homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment or ‘chemical castration’ and homosexuality was overwhelmingly regarded as pathological. It would not be until 1967 that homosexuality would be partially decriminalised, though the fight for legality did not stop there. Even after the liberalisation of the law in 1967, an estimated 15,000 men were convicted of crimes relating to homosexuality.

This gruelling path towards acceptance parallels the experiences of many individuals coming to terms with their own identity in what is, sometimes, a hostile environment to their self-discovery. In He Never Married, we explore the histories of queer people through the eyes of both generations, as the young contemplate the tribulations of the old. ‘Sam’, in finding the old letters of his late uncle, becomes intrigued by the mystery and secrecy of his relative’s past. Appreciating the gravity of the battles won across decades to afford his generation what level of acceptance they currently have, ‘Sam’ begins to question the flaws in a system he had always assumed to be adequate and comes to demand more from the world around him, maintaining the momentous legacy of those who came before and redefining that which can be considered ‘adequate’ in the pursuit of a principle of true equality, without euphemism or concession.

He Never Married takes its name from a conventional phrase used in euphemism for the obituaries of known (or suspected) gay bachelors, as late as the early 90s, and acts as a timely reminder of the fragility of political ‘progress’ and the necessity of claiming one’s voice and space. 

He Never Married is in General Programme 3 of the Durham Drama Festival 2020, playing at the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, Collingwood College, on 5th, 7th and 8th February.

Image: Rosie Dart