Edinburgh Fringe preview: Locusts

Orange Works is bringing Ian Tucker-Bell’s new play Locusts to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. The show was born out of his experiences of gay conversion therapy within evangelical churches during his teens and twenties.

Read on to find out more about Ian’s play, writing process, and the social perception of LGBTQ people.

‘Locusts’ written by Ian Tucker-Bell & Garth McLean.  Directed by Philip Holden.

Cast: Ian Tucker-Bell, Pierse Stevens, Julie Flower, Nick Blessley.

Where: The Space @ Surgeons Hall

When: 14-19 Aug, 21-26 Aug, 7.35pm

Ticket link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/locusts

Promotional image for Locusts

What are you looking forward to the most at Fringe?

The thing I’ve come to love at the Fringe is the networking and camaraderie, despite the underlying sense of competition, between companies.  

I love that mutual “got your back” that kicks in between so many of us, and we’ve experienced it year after year.  We celebrate our successes together and we support each other when the going is tough.  

I’ve made some great friends there over the years, and I look forward to what 2023 brings us – hopefully reunions with old friends and ones we have yet to make.  

Alongside that – I love seeing great grass-roots theatre.  Imaginative, playful, creative, original, challenging, and inspirational.  The Fringe never disappoints on that front.  I always come away buzzing with new ideas.

Locusts comes from your own experience of gay conversion therapy within the evangelical church. How did this impact on you?

I came “to faith” in my teenage years.  I found a sense of belonging in the church that I’d been looking for, and (for a time) a sense of safety, which for sixteen-year-old me (who’d been regularly bullied), was wonderful.  

Then the pastor led a youth bible study – and I can’t remember what it was about – but I remember him saying, quite firmly, “there is no such thing as a gay Christian.”  

Until then, I had reconciled my new faith with my emerging sexuality as I had heard of gay Christians.  

This pulled the rug out from under me – and the teaching of the church and the national youth rallies we were taken to continued to emphasise this message.  Being gay is against God’s will.  God will heal you if you have faith. 

Eventually I “came out” during a big youth rally at Camber Sands, and the first thing the counsellor said to me was “Tell me about your mother, Ian” – he led me to believe that the fault of my sexuality lay with my parents, driving a wedge between me and them.  

But – and this is the rub – despite my faith, despite my desperation for God to heal me, and doing everything I thought I could do, God did not heal me.  This created an inner dilemma, and deep sense of being “wrong”.  

I felt there must be something wrong with me that was stopping God doing what I was promised he would.  The damage that did to my mental health and my self-confidence has been lifelong.  

The play is a fictionalised version of your own experience. Was it easy to translate your own experience on to another character?

A feature of much of my writing has been taking real-life experience and translating that into a fictional narrative, and in that sense Locusts draws on my previous experience as a playwright.  

Having said that, this was far more personal and self-reflective than anything I’ve done before.  I’d been intending to write this for a few years, but kept putting it off as, sub-consciously or otherwise, it was proving too much of an emotional challenge.  

Last year, I decided it was time to face the demons and write it.  About that time, I met up with Garth, who I’d befriended at the Fringe back in 2018, and he asked to write it with me.  It turns out that was what I needed – a friend to walk this path with me and help me process what happened.  

The other mental leap I had to make in the process was overcoming the minimising I’d done to my experience.  I’d convinced myself that what had happened to me wasn’t really that bad, didn’t really matter, and nobody would be very interested.  

That’s something I reflect in the character of Stephen.  It’s those who love him that get him to acknowledge what happened to him.  As they have for me. 

When I was discussing the ideas for the play with Garth in the café at the V&A in the autumn of 2022 this was something that really connected with him, as well as that sense of being “wrong” that I felt – something I thought was unique to my experience resonated with his experience, and this led to our decision to write the piece together.

When you co-wrote Locusts with Garth you worked remotely with one of you in the UK and one in the US. Was this a productive way of exploring your story and making it work for the stage?

It was definitely a productive and collaborative relationship, and one we both hope to pursue in the future.  We initially thought there might be challenges caused by distance and time-zones, and of course we’d never written together before – but it actually happened quite easily.  

The initial challenge was finding times that worked here and there, which usually meant me working late at night, or Garth working early in the morning.  That ended up working well.  We both enjoyed the process. It felt natural – it just worked. There is a lot of mutual respect between the two of us. 

Zoom is a great tool, and we made good use of its whiteboard feature for story planning in the early stages of writing.  As both of us are actors we improvised some of the scenes.  These sessions were recorded and I distilled what we had improvised into the script.  

Alongside that, as I have mentioned previously, having a friend to explore this story with helped me to really face some demons down – safely – and productively.

In the US, it seems there is something of a war against the LGBTQ community from religious, social and political standpoints. Here in the UK this has transferred into a pushback against trans women. Do you see any prospect of positive change going forward?

It is a really horrible time for the LGBTQ community right now – particularly trans women – and it deeply saddens and worries me.  

The “culture war” being pushed on Social Media and the right-wing media around the world has empowered people to say and do the worst things, and I feel less safe out and about as a gay man than I ever have.  It must be a thousand times worse for the trans community.  

However, alongside that, there are signs of positivity.  I find many people I meet in the real world are tolerant, accepting, supportive – and reasonable.  I also think that LGBTQ people telling their stories, at the Fringe, online, wherever, breaks down barriers.  

Where others seek to dehumanise us, our life stories make us human and help people to empathise with our journeys.  Telling our stories can transform the perspective or prejudice that shapes how others view us.

I hope – beyond hope – that these horrid times are short-lived, and this whipped-up hatred fails.  Despite what Twitter and the Telegraph want us to believe, Love still conquers all – and we will overcome.