To mark LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari asked its contributors to recall a song that had an impact on their own stories.
‘I Can Only Disappoint U’ – Mansun
by Marcus Reeves
In the summer of 2000, I was 21 and undertaking my first professional acting role in what was purportedly the first public performance of ‘Sodom – The Quintessence of Debauchery’ at the Edinburgh Fringe. The play was attributed to the notorious Earl of Rochester and deemed so filthy it could never be performed – but a young producer had decided otherwise and myself and a dozen other actors were given the task.
Each night we donned our restoration makeup, wigs (and in my case, a twelve inch strap on dildo which I painstakingly rouged to perfection before the show each night). We’d all troop up the hill to the theatre for our midnight performance and I’d do my vocal warm up to the strains of Mansun’s ‘I Can Only Disappoint U’, which I’d bought from HMV a few days into the run. I was quite obsessed with the band’s singer Paul Draper. Was he in love with Mansun’s guitarist Chad, as was rumoured?
It was the first year of TV’s Big Brother, and backstage we rivalled the drama of that dubious production by all sharing a house a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s most popular gay bar, CC Bloom’s, a dubious joint where most nights of the festival you could find a peculiar mixture of punters, performers and other reprobates drinking, dancing and fighting the night away.
Amongst the company was a handsome young man by the name of Geoff, who had caught the eye of Sam, an ex-dancer now trying her luck as an actress. The course of love never running smooth, Geoff had no interest in her and had also caught the eye of her co-star and roommate, Camilla. This unfortunate love triangle had begun before we even reached the stage but was to reach a climax at the party we threw on the first weekend of our four-week stint at the festival.
We’d invited from the other companies we shared the Hill Street Theatre with, and as wine and conversation flowed amongst the throng, Geoff and I got talking in the kitchen.
Me: So what’s happening with Camilla?
Geoff: I’m not sure really…
Geoff: Well, it’s got sort of complicated…
Geoff: See, there’s someone else in the cast I like.
Me: I thought you weren’t into Sam?
Geoff: I’m not.
Me: Who is it then?
As Geoff leaned in, planted a kiss on my lips and whispered “You”, Sam, Camilla and seemingly every other person we had invited to the party suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway. The unfolding drama brought the whole cast a notorious reputation amongst the other companies and Sam refused to speak to me for the entire run, despite my role as ‘Virtuoso’, dildo and merkin maker to the King and Queen of Sodom, requiring me to ‘swive’ her onstage nightly.
I was even more surprised a few nights later when Camilla propositioned me after a few stiff ones at CC Blooms. I wish I still had whatever allure I had thirteen years ago to make me the object of such desire – to this day it’s a mystery to me as to what it was!
My mother was coming up to visit me toward the end of the run and by then I felt I had to have a much-needed heart to heart with her. I’d already been part of a rather tortured love triangle with my two best friends at school, so this repetition felt like over-familiar territory. Despite being close to my mum, I’d always kept my feelings about relationships quiet, afraid that my parents would be angry and disappointed in me.
I explained the situation and told her I thought I was gay (a slight bending of the truth – I knew I was gay) – and had assumed that the old adage “a mother always knows” would be true. She shocked me by saying she hadn’t thought so, but just wanted me to be happy. I asked her not to tell my father as I thought he’d react badly (she told him anyway which rather stole my thunder when I decided to come out to him a few years later, but he also said he just wanted me to be happy).
The world didn’t end, my parents didn’t disown me and after the run of the show, the cast went our separate ways, as casts always do. Looking back, the whole situation seems rather immature, but rather like Big Brother, when you live with dramatic people, it’s inevitable that drama will occur. My main memory is the relief I felt being able to be honest with my mum – coming out and coming away from it knowing that in the end, I hadn’t disappointed anyone.