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Arts: Drama Queen not a gay play.

Byline: Joe Riley

ONE of the highlights of Liverpool's fifth Homotopia lesbian and gay arts festival is the commissioning of a play from Shaun Duggan.

But no sooner said than done, the TV soap writer, returning to live theatre for the first time in 10 years, says he doesn't want his new creation specifically labelled as a gay play.

In Drama Queen, the every night story of club land indulgence and its consequences, the protagonist is gay, and another transsexual.

But three out of the five characters are straight.

"It's not just for a gay audience," insists Shaun, whose defining moment on telly was putting the lesbian kiss (between Anna Friel and Nichola Stephenson) into Brookside.

"Most people involved think the play has great commercial possibilities. It is about very real people and relationships - some of them flawed.

"It is also a comedy, a bit of a party on stage. You see so much new theatre that is so worthy. I just wanted to write something that was good fun."

The Unity show sees Shaun back where he started out 22 years ago, aged 16, sitting in on rehearsals and savouring the moment of his first big production at London's prestigious Royal Court theatre.

"It's so good to be part of that process again, and in many ways so much more satisfying than television," he says.

"In theatre, everyone has a real respect for the script. By comparison TV can be really cruel.

"You can spend ages working on something and then find out, weeks later, that the storyline has been changed and nobody's bothered to tell you."

For Shaun, television was mostly by remote management control.

When he did a four year stint writing for EastEnders, communication was largely by phone and email.

That's how several episodes surrounding Dirty Den's return from the dead came to be written on a kitchen table in Aigburth.

"People assumed I must have moved to London, but I was here all the time," says Shaun.

"While telly meant being quite comfortable, I have now reverted to where I was at the beginning."

There are many memories, including a youthful film, Stealing Steven, shot in Norris Green on a pounds 500 budget donated by late Liverpool club owner Lennie McMillan.

"It starred me - I was pretty wooden - and the other male lead was Ian Hart.

"Jayne Casey (of Eric's Club/Big in Japan fame) was running the Bluecoat at the time, and she made a big fuss, laid on a limousine and put out a red carpet for the premiere."

Shaun had done a stage play for the Playhouse five years ago - commissioned by former director Jo Beddoe - but it was never produced.

The beauty of the call from Homotopia director Gary Everett last year was that the first draft of Drama Queen was already on paper - in this case, aided by the fact, that quite by chance, Shaun has witnessed a punch-up between two transvestites in his own home.

"They were knocking hell out of each other. I was just sitting in the corner thinking, this is a gift to a writer."

But Shaun says that one of the play's achievements is to flag up the revolution that has led to the intermingling of straight and gay cultures in Liverpool.

"The lead character, a club owner, sees this as one of his main achievements. He hates the idea of things being too ghettoised."

He hopes Drama Queen, produced by Sue Parry who runs the Brindley arts centre at Runcorn, directed by Catherine Paskell, and with a set by Jocelyn Meale will tour next year.

"But first things first. I've come full circle and back to theatre. Now I'd love to do more."

Drama Queen, Unity Theatre, Nov 13-15

SLIDE guitarist Tom Doughty - he plays the instrument on his lap after being wheelchair-bound - is the guest at Sunday afternoon's session of Blues on the Rock, at Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton, this Sunday (1-4pm).


LESBIAN KISS: Shaun's defining moment on telly between Brookside's Anna Friel and Nichola Stephenson
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2008
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