Alexis Gregory won many plaudits for his LGBTQ+ history solo piece Riot Act, which has a UK tour in February 2020, but this month his latest play Sex/Crime – a dark and disturbing story based around fascination with gay serial killers – is being staged at the Soho Theatre, with alternative drag legend and scene performer Jonny Woo joining Alexis on stage. We spoke to Alexis to find out more about his dangerous comedy.
How did the idea of Sex/Crime come to you?
I wanted to create a queer thriller, or rather ‘queer’ the thriller genre by exploring the concept of gay serial killers and the fascination that many have with serial killers. The two characters in Sex/Crime inhabit a world with no boundaries, with one line being crossed after another.
Can you tell us more about the story of Sex/Crime?
I wanted to create something more subversive than a ‘whodunnit’ and so I made the piece about two men who come together to recreate the killings of a famous gay serial killer; tapping into notions of internalised homophobia and where the limits of sexual fetish lie. The murders become a ‘mere’ transactional commodity, as does sex, violence, intimacy, class, fear, fame, language, money, otherness, power and drugs. Sex/Crime is dark, challenging, sexy, dangerous and oh, it’s a comedy too.
Who is Jonny Woo’s character?
I’m very excited to have alternative drag legend Jonny Woo, reprising his role of ‘A’. The character is a sex-worker who offers his clients, one of whom is only known as ‘B’ and played by myself, the unique experience of picking their ‘favourite’ murder, for him to recreate, with the client as the victim. The two men meet, money is exchanged, and then they go on a journey, finding out about each other and themselves and both getting more than they bargained for.
Did you research particular serial killers of gay men?
Yes. There are of course famous gay serial killers such as Dennis Nielsen from the 1980s and then the more recent like Stephen Port and Stefano Brizzi who, while not a serial killer, killed a gay on-duty police officer. I spoke to a police officer who worked on the Brizzi case and to Stephen Morris, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service lead on chemsex related crimes among gay men. Whilst the reality of such cases influenced my play, Sex/Crime is very much a fantasy.
It is a dark and dangerous subject but you’ve been able to bring in the comic, why is that mix of humour and seriousness important to you as a writer?
All of my work mixes hard-hitting humour and drama. I love making audiences laugh. The humour in Sex/Crime is outrageous. Audience members are laughing one moment and then terrified the next. It’s a roller coaster ride for them. I would even go so far as to describe Sex/Crime as high camp too!
Even though it’s a dark story, is Sex/Crime also about our need for connection and intimacy?
Sex/Crime is absolutely about that and specifically about the gay male search for intimacy. These two men are so desperate for a connection that they push themselves to such an extreme level. They have completely normalised their desires and Sex/Crime is a play that explores what happens when boundaries are crossed; individually and collectively as a society.
Were you ever worried that the audience would find the story too much?
If I am honest, yes. Before we did the three week run at The Glory in 2018, we tested it out with two ‘work in progress’ presentations. I was terrified that people wouldn’t get what I was trying to communicate as Jonny and I stepped out to perform a comedy about gay serial killers. Audiences did get it though and went on the ride with us. Robert Chevara, the play’s director, Jonny and I have to be completely bold and unapologetic to pull this off. We all totally go for it. Believe me!
Have you enjoyed working with Jonny Woo?
Jonny is fantastic and aside from starring in the play with me, he has supported the play by giving it its first platform at The Glory and helping me get the play into Soho. This is a very rare ‘acting’ role for Jonny and he is absolutely astonishing in the role and he will, again, surprise a lot of people who have never seen him do anything like this.
And your other major recent play Riot Act is starting a UK tour for 2020? Your three characters are very important historic LGBTQ+ figures, what are you hoping audiences will take from them as you go around the country?
I’m really excited to be touring my solo theatre piece Riot Act around the UK again, this time for LGBT History Month in February 2020. Again, it is a hard hitting piece but full of humour, hope, truth and ultimately uplifting, focussing on extraordinary real life queer community heroes. I hope audiences continue to come on the journey with me and recognise all of the above in the piece. By the way, we have only one London date as part of the tour: Sunday 16 February at the new Turbine Theatre at Battersea Power Station.
Are there other areas of LGBTQ+ history that you are interested in researching for future new plays?
I am not sure if I will create another similar piece to Riot Act as I have so many stories to tell and as you can probably tell by comparing Sex/Crime and Riot Act, I always like to try something new and different for the next project. I hope Riot Act encourages community members to come forward and tell their own stories instead.
Photos by Matt Spike