Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Member (Gilded Balloon) ★★★★

Blending storytelling with live music, this confronting play delves into the gay hate-crime epidemic that blighted Australia, and the relevance this piece of queer history still has today.

Ben Noble in Member. Photo Credit: Deryk McAlpin.

With simple and effective staging, Member takes an unflinching look at homophobia and its deep-rooted grasp. Ben Noble plays Corey, an initially likeable bear of a man, who is waiting by the bedside of his 17-year old son. Expertly underscored by Simone Seales on cello, this monologue play builds relentlessly to a hard-hitting and shocking climax.

At times the piece is uncomfortably intimate, which is wholly appropriate and contributes to a pressure-cooker feel. Noble is a thoughtful and skilled performer, with strong characterisations for both his narrator and others in the story. The hateful rhetoric that is introduced comes first as “banter” – so often the way that such conduct is minimised and excused – but is soon shown in a darker, more insidious light.

Ben Noble in Member. Photo Credit: Deryk McAlpin.

The conflict in Corey’s attitudes are stark and unsettling. Recounting his childhood experiences, being forced to participate in horrific hate-crimes at an early age, his world view is warped beyond measure. The need to belong, to be part of something, gradually twists his outlook, with a devastatingly pertinent reflection of how young men in particular can be radicalised. Masculinity is in the cross-hairs, with Corey referring to his son as “a real boy” when he played sports, and his assertion that having a gay child is a reflection on him.

What is most shocking about Member is that it draws on real events as the backdrop for one man’s story. The prevalence of “gay-bashing” over three decades in Australia, leading to the maming and murder of countless men perceived to be gay, is absolutely factual. Many of the deaths were dismissed as suicides by a disinterested police force, many of whom likely held similar views to the perpetrators.

Ben Noble in Member. Photo Credit: Deryk McAlpin.

This is a dark, disturbing piece of theatre that demands your attention throughout. It is not a play to sit back and enjoy, rather it is uncompromising, urgent and vital.

By Deborah Klayman

Member plays at Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh until 28th August 2023.

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