Manchester’s Gay Village – Then and Now
Adam Zane, Artistic Director of Hope Theatre Company, whose show Jock Night is currently on at the King’s Head Theatre, talks about the change in Manchester’s Gay Village since his time on Queer As Folk.
Twenty years ago, l was living in Manchester and about to hit the screens in Channel 4’s Queer As Folk. After auditioning for the part of Alexander and losing out to Corrie knicker-stitcher Antony Cotton, I was given the part of Dane. Thanks to the internet, I’m still recognised occasionally on Canal Street as “the one who fell out of the window” or “the one crying over Princess Diana”.
When my first episode was broadcast, it wasn’t my epic comedy fall from a window (as I tried to escape a threesome with Antony Cotton and an undertaker) that everyone was talking about. Episode Three of Russell T Davies’ now classic series mixed high comedy with high drama (excuse the pun) as Jason Merrell’s character Phil died suddenly and shockingly of a drug overdose, after picking up a guy on the way home.
After seeing it, my Mum grilled me, wanting to know if I’d ever picked up a guy on the way home (only if I hadn’t pulled in Cruz, Mum) and if I’d ever taken drugs.
I’m sure she thought I was lying, but I could honestly say that I hadn’t, unless you counted poppers (and that was only months before, on the dance-floor of Legends).
Drugs didn’t seem to be a part of my world back then. ‘Madchester’ and the 1990s clubbing scene had passed me by, the gay village to me was about cheap vodka and Kylie.
Twenty years on and it’s still the lure of cheap vodka and Kylie that gets me to Canal Street, but the village now has much more to offer. Go to any gay bar in town, any town and there will be someone on drugs. Whether it’s a quick sniff of MKat or a shot of G, the LGBT+ community have discovered a new way to party. Phil’s overdose in Queer as Folk isn’t quite as shocking when you hear that hundreds of men are dying every year from overdoses of GHB.
For the past fifteen years, I’ve been Artistic Director of Hope Theatre Company and many of our productions have been set in the gay village.
Most recently recreating a night out with the iconic Martyn Hett in the play #BeMoreMartyn: The Boy with the Deirdre Tattoo. As I looked for our next village-based project I knew I had to write about chemsex. As 56 Dean Street chemsex lead David Stuart said last year when writing for Gay Star News, “We have to talk about chemsex”.
I have to talk about friends struggling with addiction, the friends who are lucky to be alive but also recognise that for some, chemsex isn’t necessarily a negative and doesn’t have to be a gateway to tragedy. Like David Stuart, I think chemsex will define this period of gay history and as a community, we need to talk about this openly and without judgement. The play Jock Night looks at the issue seriously, but is full of comedy, some bare flesh and lots of jocks.
Like Queer as Folk, my characters are out and about in the gay village, falling in love, picking up guys on the way home and taking drugs. We have always lived lives full of risk – from the law, from disease, from hate.
Every day, just like Nathan Maloney in Episode One, young LGBT+ people are arriving on Canal Street. We need to look out for them, look after them and educate them about the risks out there. They might listen to us or like Nathan, they may choose to “do it, really do it” anyway.
I hope Jock Night will help highlight some of the risks our community faces in 2019 but the play is no tragedy. If twenty years in the gay village has taught me anything, it’s that our community is strong and when faced with a crisis, we are even stronger.
Published in Collaboration with King’s Head Theatre:
Also By Kings Head Theatre: