Naked Homo

This post was contributed by Lee Pritchard, a Birkbeck MA English student

At one point in Martin Lewton’s candid one-man performance ‘Naked Homo’, seen here before its short run at the Brighton Fringe, a small towel is utilized as a head scarf – the sketch, one of 8 that make up any one show, concerns a transvestite’s frank recounting of a recent encounter with a haberdasher. Sitting on a chair (the show’s only other prop and sole staging device) Lewton was visibly struggling to tie the towel – no bigger than flannel – around his head before he could start his monologue. After tying a loose knot he confides that it may well fall down later and that we will have to do our best to just imagine it in place. After a short burst of coy-feminine, cross legged introduction, the towel does indeed fall off. Martin gives a panto aside of ‘told you so’ and an unabashed smile in our direction before carrying on, unflustered. It’s a trivial memory of an otherwise smooth performance but one, I dare say, that could have actually been just as intentional as any other part of the choreography. What it allowed Martin to do was something quite crucial: it broke down the wall for only the briefest of moments, letting us all breathe a slight awkward laugh of relief that the naked man in the room was aware of his nakedness and that he could smile and share in our tightly hidden embarrassment, thus alleviating some small part of it.

Nakedness is not just a selling gambit for this show. It is, more than the ‘homo’ part, its very subject. How do we feel about parents talking to their son after he has just walked in on them having sex? Do we feel differently when considering that their parents are gay? How about gay and naked, standing in front of their son who, we learn, has had his own pre-pubescent homo-erotic encounter?  It is to Martin’s credit that he has been able to deftly ‘get at’ the now standard gay-drama issues (e.g. attitudes to casual gay sex in a post-aids era, cross-dressing, gay parenting, gay-hate and the secular popularity of summer ‘pride’ festivals) by simply adding the element of nudity. It speaks to a very British sensibility, perhaps, that finds itself even in these ‘unshockable’ times open-jawed at the sight of a naked actor bending over to show them a close-up view of their anatomy(!) Even more so as this performance has none of the Saddlers Wells high-art dance sheen that makes nudity acceptable to a paying cultured class; rather the point of nudity here is to give a wry, heel-kickingly proud prod in the sides of our less than modern relationship with sex and nudity. The aim is very much to make you smile, to make you go through all the phases of smiling that even the most prepared art-goer is likely to encounter: from wide-grinning embarrassment down to friendly, relaxed familiarity by the end of the show.

The real nakedness however, comes in those sketches that focus on the less than assured gay-personas. In an autobiographical sketch as Martin tells us, we hear a man’s life-long suppression of homo-eroticism blend with the guilt of his wife’s recent passing and the new lease of (sex) life this has granted him. The emotions are tenderly uncovered as Martin skilfully shrinks his body in on itself, covering his intimacy up in a ball of hand-wringing guilt as he learns to confront the real man he is finally learning to love. In a Q + A session after with Martin and director/partner Andrew McKinnon, we learn that this inauspicious rehearsal studio is surprisingly not the strangest space Martin has performed ‘Naked Homo’ in (suffice to say that the angle a seated diner has at a table looking up at a naked actor makes for quite a unique experience!) We asked if Martin had ever experienced any negative heckling at a performance or any walkouts – Andrew stepped in to tell us of a man, on his own and clearly gay who could barely conceal his discomfort and did indeed nearly walkout. The frankness of the themes explored perhaps, or the way that a friendly naked man can make you see old problems afresh, can provide for some a very affecting experience.



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