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Interview: Glenn Chandler, Joseph Lindeo, Calum Fleming and Ashley Cousins

Taggart creator and BAFTA winner Glenn Chandler brings major critical hit, Sandel, to London stage...


Controversy is never far away when discussing religion and homosexual love affairs. Sandel tells the story of when a 19-year-old undergraduate is sent down after breaking college laws, then given a job as a teacher at a choir school where Sandel, the choirboy, is attending.

In the first of our two-part interview, GT got in depth with Glenn with what Sandel is really about.

Sandel was a huge hit with the critics at the Fringe Festival last year. Do you think it would have been such a success ten years ago, when attitudes were different?
Glenn Chandler: I think almost definitely, especially with the creation of above the stage theatre that does primarily gay drama. I think gay theatre has found a home, that’s not to say that I think all gay theatre should just be done in this one place, I just think that it’s a very healthy sign that there is so much of it and plays a huge part in public acceptance as well.
 
Do you think that it will continue to develop?
GC: Enormously, 75% of the stuff I write now is gay. People say to me that I should do something that has heterosexual women in it but I don’t know...
Joseph Lindeo: They bore you! Heterosexual women bore you [Laughing all round]
 

What is it about the gay theatre that you find so fascinating to write for? Does it create a purge?
GC:For me personally it’s to find subjects that are unexplored. The last gay play I did was the Custard Boys. I wouldn’t say it was a gay play but it has a strong gay element in it that was based on the novel written by John Ray about teenage evacuees in the Second World War, living in the countryside. It was a gay relationship between a teenage evacuee and a German Jewish boy with a nice off-the wall relationship all set in the Norfolk countryside. Particularly with Sandel it’s been a cult novel for about half a century and I just loved the challenge of doing something about student who is a 13year old choir boy and in this day and age, It was controversial then and its even more controversial now. I just think I enjoy the challenge of this, rather then writing about contemporary gay boys coming out of clubs.

Do you think there is room in religion and homosexuality to coexist?
GC: I think that they can coexist peacefully absolutely, but some religions I won’t mention, have a thousand miles to go compare to others.
Calum Fleming: There’s a difference between the people that practice religion and not. I approached this as a gay atheist, so to transform into a closeted gay catholic was interesting. I’ve got good friends that all catholic, with both different views but at the end of the day I believe that people’s personal views have changed but the structure and anarchy I don’t see how it can, it would be tricky.
 
You say you went from someone being a gay atheist to a closeted gay catholic, how did you research this part?
CF: It was mostly researching Catholicism and also what it’s like to be in the closet in the 60’s. I got a book out called Queer sixties, the choirboy having an affair with their teacher it seems like it was sort of okay, and no one really talked about it. But nowadays it’s a very different thing.
GC: It was controversial in the 60’s because at the time the law was just about to change, although he was 19 and the other was 13 going on 14, they were both underage.

As you were reading Sandel, you were also growing into a man with the experiences you went through. Could you say that the experience reading it again was different after so many years?
GC: It brought me back to the same feelings. I read it primarily again thinking can I do something with this on stage cause I had already done the Custard Boys and I enjoyed doing that. I thought can I really make this work on stage and I had to listen to calling music, voice trebles and sopranos because the music is absolutely beautiful, so to be able to bring it to life on stage using all the music is great.

Reading Sandel as a young man, did you have pre-selected ideas of what you wanted when it came to casting?
GC: The casting wasn’t difficult; the hardest part was finding a man that looked 13 but was of course over licensing age, but most importantly who can act. It is not a small part and it’s a big and emotional journey, so while casting I had to make that they could take on all this emotion and go on this journey and luckily Ashley was in Billy Elliot so he had lots of experience of being on stage.

There always seems to be reasons within society to not accept minority groups; do you think there will ever be a time of total acceptance?
JL: Over time I think we are slowly getting somewhere with homosexuality and the majority of the population accept that its okay to be gay. Although there are small sections of society who still have different views, I’ve come to the conclusion now that all we can do is to not treat it like its more then it really is. Some people are gay, get over it. And no matter how much people protest, we’ve been fighting for a while and how much can you really do to change things?
Ashley Cousins: In order to create a successful, healthy society you have to accept that everyone is different, I think that’s the only way and enjoy that fact that everyone is different.
CF: Bigots will be bigots. Living in Wood green all my life, I heard all this abuse, which I thought, I was in a world that had changed but it just depends on what part of the world you’re living in. I think its good to do plays like this. We’ve had such mixed reactions, and people don’t know weather to storm out, cry or clap.
GC: The interesting things about Sandel is that it’s the younger boy, With a society people would say that he was groomed, but back in the 60’s I don’t think groomed was a word.

Sandel opens at Above the Stag in London's Vauxhall from 20 May until 14 June. For more details, or for ticket information, visit abovethestag.com.

Words Benjamin Butterworth/Alex Mansfield

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