We’re really excited for Steve, a queer comedy that opened in New York in 2015 and is about to make its European debut starring David Ames and Olivier Award-winner Jenna Russell.
It’s a play that celebrates all things musical theatre, and – unsurprisingly, given the show’s name – is full of timely references to, and affection for, Stephen Sondheim. The play shines a spotlight on LGBTQ+ relationships, both romantic and platonic, and considers the highs and lows of getting older.
It navigates long-term friendships, monogamy, saying goodbye and being alive. Ahead of the show’s opening night next week, we caught up with David Ames to find out a bit more about Steve and his role in the play.
Tell us a bit more about the show…
It’s kind of immersive – I don’t want to give too much away, but effectively it’s Joe Allen, the restaurant on Broadway in Manhattan. So when you walk in it’s like you’re going to be walking into a restaurant, and things just start happening from there. The opening scene of the play is basically a third of the entire play, we wanted to create as much of a vibe as possible.
It’s based in 2015, just as gay marriage had come into effect in the United States. A group of 40-something gays and their dear lesbian friends have a meal and they start discussing life and this new chapter within the LGBTQ+ world of things happening and changing – what does that mean to people? Being able to do that, to level up with a predominantly heterosexual society. That’s interesting because it raises the subject of functional relationships, the subject of monogamy, and it’s a really interesting conversation to have. It has been raised a few times through gay productions, but this play threw it out there and made the argument for both sides.
My character is in a relationship that’s malfunctioning and he is monogamous and friends of his are not. They start to highlight the fact that they have quite a wholesome relationship, as they have trust and honesty and openness, whereas this monogamous relationship doesn’t have those and has started to malfunction. What is the better relationship? This one where on the surface it all looks good but actually when you go deeper you don’t have this openness and honesty there – that’s important.
It deals with that, but it also deals with loss, losing a friend, reaching that age where your friends start to get ill. I certainly have had that recently, over the last few years, I’ve reached my late 30s and suddenly your friends are getting those illnesses that you only really thought your parents’ friends got and then suddenly you go, oh, that’s because when I was thinking that at that age… I’m now their age! So it all starts happening, and that’s really poignant.”
Steve pays homage to musical theatre, but it’s not a musical – tell us more about that…
It’s very heavily steeped in musical theatre. There are no musical numbers, no one sings, but with reference to the name of the play being Steve, there is a heavy bent on it being littered with Stephen Sondheim references which is very of the moment! Also it’s meta on so many levels, because we have the incredible Jenna Russell in our cast who is one the UK’s most prominent Stephen Sondheim musical theatre actresses. There are moments with lines which I never thought I would get to say to someone like Jenna! I tell her that she… she quotes Sondheim like a man! Things like that are so great.
What’s wonderful about it is that we are playing Broadway people who didn’t quite make it. But we are completely obsessed with Broadway, with musicals, the Sondheim fans and musical theatre fans will pick up reference after reference, even down to me ordering a vodka stinger which is a massive reference to Company, and you know throughout there are so many, we’re still discovering them. It’s a very timely production to stage now as a real tribute… the reason it’s called Steve is because I am Steven, and my partner is Stephen, and our son is also called Stevie, it’s a running joke.
What can you tell us about the character you play?
He is a guy having a massive crisis of confidence, mid-life, his best friend is unwell and his partner and him have become very distant, they have an eight-year-old child and they’re not married, but they are starting to struggle, they’re starting to fracture slightly and he discovers that something has been going on and it starts to all fall to pieces. Everything around him seems to be changing, but he isn’t, and he’s reluctant to change, and he’s clinging on to thinking that he’s right not to change. Whereas actually, the world is moving on and he either needs to adapt or stop. But if he stops, he’s going to lose all these people.
His friend has gone into a throuple, and he doesn’t know how to do that. He’s not that kind of person, he’s not open in that way, he’s quite heteronormative in the way that he feels about that sort of thing. It’s eye opening for him – every element of his life, the cornerstones of his life, every time he goes to hold on to them they fade away and they crumble. So it’s him scrabbling around to find something that makes sense in this world. He realises that it doesn’t make sense but he has to just kind of be there for the ride. He likes to be centre of attention, he’s someone who needs love and adoration and he’s super insecure, and what’s happened to him is making him even more so.”
How are rehearsals going so far?
We started rehearsals exactly a month from the day that I finished Holby City, which was great timing for me, gave me a little time to shake all that off and then come into this amazing production. After nearly ten years on Holby City – which is a different rule book! People go ‘on TV you can kind of dial it in a bit’ but stage takes… this is a live hour and a half straight through scene basically, I’ve been used to being able to go ‘cut! Can I go again?’ whereas this – you don’t get to do that, you’ve just got to keep going.
The team is really amazing, it’s a collaborative process, and that’s lovely. This week we’ve had Ben, our pianist – we have a live pianist throughout the whole show, because in Joe Allen you have a pianist – he underscores that whole first scene. Then throughout, he kind of heightens slightly, in a musical fashion, it’s underscored with references to Sondheim, it’s gorgeous. It’s been really incredible with how it just changes our performances, we all get into a groove of how we think a scene should go, and suddenly Ben just being there playing – you’re like, ‘oh ok this is different’.”
Why should our readers come and see Steve?
I think this play really resonates. The loss of a friend, we’ve all experienced some sort of loss in our lives, this one really strikes you and it’s so beautifully written. It deals with life coming at you really fast and you’ve got to move with it, and getting older, and changing with the times and adjusting to where you are in life and not resisting but just trying to swim with the current. I think it’s quite poignant really, and that we’ve made so many leaps in the last 20 years with regards to all manner of things in our community.
When I came out you were either gay, bi or straight. That was it. Now we have spread out into this amazing bouquet of being non-binary, or pansexual, and it’s gorgeous. It’s showing you these people, I certainly know a few gay people who are all ‘oh it’s a bit much isn’t it’ and I’m like, ‘no! People thought that about us 20 years ago!’ What’s happening now, this is just flourishing more and more, people feel they can just be themselves and not hide, and that’s bloody brilliant. This show just shows that you need to adapt and change and look out for each other, that you need good people around you. A chosen family, and that’s what this is, it’s about these people who have chosen their families, you see them acting as a family, and that’s gorgeous.
Steve runs at the Seven Dials Playhouse until 19 March. More information can be found here.