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Ian Hallard on queer noir play Tumulus: ‘It’s vitally important to educate people about chemsex’

Ian Hallard will appear in Tumulus at the Soho Theatre from 16th April to 4th May.

Tumulus, written by Christopher Adams, is a noir-style murder mystery thriller set amongst London’s gay scene. Starring The Boys In The Band’s Ian Hallard and The Last Kingdom’s Ciarán Owens, it’s a play of twists and turns.

Directed by Matt Steinberg and inspired by a true story, Tumulus will see three actors play over 40 roles between them, creating digitally generated voices and orchestrating live foley sound effects.

Having debuted at VAULT 2018 to rave 4-star reviews, the play won an
Origins Award for Outstanding New Work. You can get tickets to its upcoming run at Soho Theatre (16 April – 4th May) here.

We caught up with Ian Hallard to find out a little bit more about the thriller, the need for queer theatre, and why it’s time to start talking about chemsex.

In your own words, what is ‘Tumulus’ about?

It’s a murder mystery thriller set in London against the backdrop of the contemporary chemsex scene. Our hero, Anthony, discovers an ex of his has been murdered and, with the police showing no interest in the case, he sets out to try and solve the crime himself. His journey into the world of chemsex takes him into some unexpected and dangerous situations.

Across three actors, you all play over 40 different roles in the thriller. Are you at all nervous about this prospect?

Multi-rolling like this is always a challenge. You dig into your box of tricks to differentiate the characters: regional accents, physical tics, etc! But we are helped on this occasion by some state-of-the-art technology. We are fed through a digital voice changer which shifts the pitch, tone and quality of our voices, so it’s exciting getting to experiment with that.

Soho Theatre on Twitter

Not long now until this sneak peek into #Tumulus with director @MrSteinbergMatt is reality in our Upstairs space. We can’t wait for the @VAULTFestival hit written by Christopher Adams (aka @beijingcoma) to arrive 🙌 @TumulusPlay @OutsideTheatre https://t.co/3Kd8szWfqB

The thriller is set within London’s gay scene. How do you think theatre can change attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community?

I guess there’s a danger that you end up preaching to the converted. The likelihood is that our audience will be gay or gay-friendly. I suspect it’s unlikely that any of the parents who are currently protesting against school relationship classes are going to come and have their minds opened by watching a piece of queer theatre.

If anything, this latest controversy has highlighted how important LGBT+ voices are, and how we’ve been marginalised as a community in this latest discussion. But it certainly proves that in spite of the progress we’ve made in recent years towards equality in many areas, the battle isn’t over and there are many who would like to see those achievements rolled back.

My experience of doing a ‘gay play’ like ‘The Boys in the Band’ a couple of years ago was that audiences of all genders and sexualities engaged with the predicaments of the characters because the issues were universal and if you have empathy with others, you can get something out of a well-written and produced piece of theatre whoever you are.

As you’ve mentioned, the play touches on the chemsex scene. Do you think it’s an important topic to discuss, particularly to a wider audience who may not be so aware of it?

Very much so. I learned a lot about the chemsex scene from doing the show last year. Understandably, a lot of men are reluctant to talk about their involvement because of feelings of shame. I have a few friends who have got into chemsex and are on varying stages of their journey to deal with, and in some cases, extricate themselves from it.

David Stuart, who is an expert on chemsex and who works at the sexual health clinic at 56 Dean Street, has advised us and given us the benefit of his knowledge. It’s something of a ticking time bomb, so it’s vitally important to educate the members of our community about chemsex as a phenomenon but also the wider world. The lack of knowledge or indeed even interest from the police meant that the ‘Grindr Killer’ Stephen Port was able to continue to kill when he could have been caught much sooner.

(Photo credit: Michael Carlo)
(Photo credit: Michael Carlo)

You recently appeared in Mary, Queen of Scots. How was that experience?

It was fun. I only did one day, although I did get to witness her having her head chopped off. Getting to film in a big stately home and dressing up in doublet and hose is the main reason I wanted to do this job in the first place.

I told a friend of mine that I was playing a real-life nobleman called Sir Richard Knightley. He said instantly: “You mean you’re playing ‘Dick Nightly?!’

Tumulus will run from 16 April to 4 May 2019 at Soho Theatre. Click here to get tickets.

Written by QWEERIST editor

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