Walt Whitman play championing LGBT+ lives is a triumph at Burnley library

The cast of The Adhesion of Love by Stephen M. Hornby, which came to Burnley Central Library last weekend. (s)
The cast of The Adhesion of Love by Stephen M. Hornby, which came to Burnley Central Library last weekend. (s)
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He’s the award-winning writer who is tired of LGBT+ lives being erased from our history books.

Stephen M. Hornby brought his fight to Burnley Central Library last week in the form of a powerful play.

The Adhesion of Love re-imagines an iconic American poet as part of the queer community.

It follows Bolton’s John Wallace, who set up a club for men in 1885 to celebrate Walt Whitman’s poetry.

As John heads to America to meet his literary hero, the journey also sets him on the path to sexual awakening, and he is forced to confront the real intimacy he seeks at the book group.

A moving and endearing performance was given by Conor Ledger as John.

Gareth George was confident and charming as John’s close friend Dr Johnston while Macaulay Cooper showcased a wide range playing three roles, including Whitman’s lover.

Dean Michael Gregory brought comedy to the play as Charles Sixsmith, a working-class man who, at a time of intense homophobia, was matter-of-fact about his sexual attraction to men.

Christy Matthews made for a flamboyant and interesting character as composer Philip Dalmas who, like Whitman, inspired John to reach new spiritual limits.

A strong performance also came from John Smeathers as Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian psychiatrist who saw Whitman as a Messiah.

Billie Meredith’s Walt Whitman - thought by contemporaries to be popular with the ladies - was gentle and vulnerable.

It was a smart decision by Hornby to cast the poet - an old, white man - as a young, black woman.

Billie symbolised Whitman’s belief that together we all create one race, one gender, and one people.

Director Helen Parry skilfully teased out the script’s drama using music and lighting to bring the show out of the theatre and into the community.

Praise also goes to the brilliant creative and production crew: Phil Buckley; Sam Ackerley; Jules Steed; Graham Eaglesham; Nathaniel Hall; Lee Baxter; Shay Rowan; and Paul Salveson.

Hornby's play needed only simple production to prove that queer tales are as fascinating as their heterosexual counterparts. That makes it nothing short of a triumph.