a new east london play presents the real life experiences of homeless lgbt youth

SAFE stars the first trans UK soap star Riley Carter Millington, with the cast reciting verbatim stories from young people working with LGBT homelessness charity Albert Kennedy Trust.

by Charlotte Gush
19 October 2016, 11:30am

SAFE is a new production at the London Theatre Workshop addressing the big issue of homelessness among LGBT youth. A disproportionate percentage of all homeless and at risk young people in the UK identify as LGBT -- 25%, in fact. Playwright Alexis Gregory interviewed a number of young people working with the LGBT homelessness charity The Albert Kennedy Trust to collect "stories of sexuality, gender, childhood, family, identity, religion, race, addiction and survival and an exploration of what it means to feel truly safe in today's world," which are performed verbatim by actors in the theatre show, along with live music and spoken word poetry by Yrsa Daley Ward.

"I was 13 years old. My mum said 'are you gay?' and I said 'yeah' and the first thing she did was punch me in the face. I cried my eyes out, left the house, ran away and didn't come back for a week" - a real life testimony from SAFE.

Starring in SAFE is Riley Carter Millington, the first trans actor to play a long-running trans role on a primetime TV soap, as Kyle Slater in EastEnders. In SAFE, Riley plays 'Jack'. "I love the passion Alexis Gregory has for his projects and SAFE in particular, and the importance he places on authenticity, for example a trans actor playing the role of a trans person and the fact that it is based on a real life story," Riley says.

"It's important for these stories to be shown and told, and when reading the part I was sucked in," he continues. "I felt every word of what 'Jack' was saying and the struggle he'd gone through to be himself, showing us that not everyone is fortunate within their family situations or relationships. This play also shows that there are people and places out there who want to help," he adds. "Organisations like the Albert Kennedy Trust who have helped so many homeless and at risk people and have given them a second chance."

As SAFE opens at London Theatre Workshop, i-D catch up with writer and producer Alexis Gregory to find out more…

SAFE opened this week at the London Theatre Workshop. Why is now the right time for this theatre piece?
We are living in such extraordinarily fast moving times; however, the contradiction seems to be that, as progressive as these times are, they feel regressive too. LGBT lives are receiving a lot of exposure at the moment; we have made enormous strides legally and in regards to wider social acceptance; we are featured in TV soaps, and of course the recent explosion in trans visibility. Interest in, and support of our trans brothers and sisters is, of course, beyond life affirming, but what does it all really mean and what is the flip side? Some of us are still fighting to survive every single day; yes, perhaps in the way that our straight counterparts may be doing so to, but also in ways directly related to our sexual or gender identity. 25% of homeless and at risk youth identify as LGBT in the UK. That is clearly a disturbingly disproportionate figure. Yes, it 'gets better' -- but not for everyone. The stories of the real young people in SAFE -- it's a verbatim piece with the dialogue entirely gleaned from my interviews with young people I met -- are ongoing; their struggles continue on a daily basis. The stories in SAFE aren't sanitised LGBT stories designed for palatable mass consumption. This is reality.

Tell us about your research for SAFE?
I was adamant to explore other LGBT stories other than that of the 'dominant' cis-born gay white male. I spoke to a Nigerian born young gay man, now living in the UK, threatening with beings sent back to Africa for 'curing'; a gay trans man learning to navigate society as a man and as a gay man too; a trans woman who has the most inspiring story of survival, from an abusive childhood to sex-working, living a completely unsafe life and now as an ambassador for the AKT; and a young gay woman with addiction issues, in AA at the age of twenty. SAFE explores the concept of storytelling too, and we explore the reasons as to why the young people wanted to share theirs. They just want to be listened to. Don't we all?

Tell us more about the casting?
Director Robert Chevara and I worked really hard on it. We went via our own contacts, agents, casting websites, LGBT youth groups and via queer theatre groups. We have Riley Carter Millington heading up the cast, known as Kyle Slater in Eastenders, the first trans actor playing a trans character in a UK soap. We also have Kit Redstone, another trans actor in SAFE cast in a trans role. They are joined by Laura Jayne Ayres and Michael Fatogun. The actors are delivering such committed, dedicated, passionate and moving performances; natural, truthful and dynamic whilst still being theatrical and stylised at the same time. The actors totally inhabit their roles.

Why should people come and see the performance, and what do you hope they will take away with them?
I want as many people to see SAFE as possible. I wrote it so that it could be watched by a teenager or an adult. I want queer people to see it, I want straight people to see it. I want SAFE to be seen further in London, after this limited initial run and I want it to go on a UK tour and to make a film version too. There is a lot of work to do. We have been so well supported by our audiences; they have been amazing and have gone on such a journey with us each night. Jack, the gay trans male character says in SAFE that when people hear his story he wants them to feel a 'connection'. If that happens and we can humanise and highlight certain issues, then I will be very happy.

SAFE runs Monday 17th October - Saturday 22nd October at London Theatre Workshop. Buy tickets here.


Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Jane Hobson

albert kennedy trust
alexis gregory
lgbt homeless
london theatre workshop