Pits & Perverts, Michael Kerrigan’s first venture as a playwright, is a master-class in how even the biggest ideas and sincerest emotions can be acted out in small spaces. Encompassing everything from homophobia to working-class stereotyping, socialism to Thatcherism, religion to high art – even throwing in some hilarious dancing and a few tunes in between – the play can be, at times, deeply humorous, at other times, startling poignant and touching.
Set against the backdrop of the 1984 miners strike, Derry-born Sean (Conor Maguire) finds himself living with his showy, musically-talented partner, Gene (Michael Johnston), in London, right at the heart of the strike. Sean is haunted by the loss of a friend back home and can’t put his past to rest. He feels he must fight for every cause and support the miners by all means possible. It’s this that leads him to bring two strikers home to live with them. Enter David (Jason Davies) and Rhys (Patrick Buchanan), two Welsh moustache-laden, perpetually-abrasive miners from the Valleys so caught up in their ways that when they find themselves spending the night in the company of homosexuals, it makes for an hysterically awkward night (Top-right).
But as the strike stagnates, tensions unwind and the characters begin to release they are all outcasts in some way. They warm to each other, stereotypes are broken down on stage (often in typically comedic fashion) and the characters eventually begin to formulate plans to save the strike together.
The rest is history. Drawing on real life events of how the LGSM (Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners) staged a ball – The Pits & Perverts Ball – to raise funds for the strikers, the play puts its seriousness aside for a moment and allows the characters to dance themselves silly to Bronski Beat (who actually performed at the Ball in real life) in solidarity with each other. And despite the futile consequences of the strike, the ending is bittersweet; it retains a sense of hope that stereotypes can be broke down further in the future.
At times the play can perhaps take on too much in terms of its larger thematic concerns, which leads the character Jim – the deceased friend from Sean’s past who haunts his memory – to be largely ignored for large parts then brought in again at random intervals. The play, with its magnificently loud voice, tries to say everything at once. Whether this is a flaw or not is left to the audience to decide. But for the audience of the Lyric Theatre, Kerrigan’s determination to create a world that he, as a homosexual living in Derry in the 80s, once experienced was strongly received – if the standing ovation was anything to go by.