|Scott Agnew: Tales of the Sauna|
|Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012|
Somewhere near the top of the show, Scott Agnew asks the audience to alternately give a cheer if you're gay, and then if you're straight. This information is needed so that Agnew knows which version of the act to perform, depending on the crowd's familiarity with the terminology and practises of gay sex. If that's too much for you – and if the full title Tales of the Sauna: A look into the little-known world of the gay man's sauna didn't alert you already – then turn back now.
For everyone else, this is a funny and important corrective to the resurgent narrative about the morality of gay lifestyles. But it's funny first of all: Agnew is a comedian in the classic Glasgow mould (a “Glasgow hardman”, as he described himself at another event I saw him play, pun very much intended), with a broad accent and a tendency to use the f-word as a punctuation point rather than a swear. His flyer pulls a quote likening him to Billy Connolly, which would seem trite if it weren't accurate. I was struck by how similar some of his mannerisms were to Des Clarke, for instance – the leg-rubbing and silly voices – but that all stems back to the Big Yin.
And while Connolly might say “I'd like to talk about my willy,” Agnew goes a good deal further. Starting as a lovelorn 22-year-old (recently dumped by his chubby-chasing boyfriend after losing ten stone), he recounts his decade of experience in saunas across Britain. From Glasgow to London, Edinburgh to Manchester, the tales are sometimes warm-hearted (all action stopping when a favourite daytime TV programme comes on), sometimes scatological (I won't say!), but always hilarious.
More than that, though, they are genuinely revealing, in both senses. I'll confess to no prior direct experience of saunas, but the reality Agnew describes couldn't be further from the Crisco-fuelled image they have. There's no getting round the fact that they are, fundamentally, places where men – and not always gay men – go for sex. But, as Agnew explains, they have almost become community centres for an aging cohort of gay men who have lived most of their lives in secret, and who are just as likely to want to have a cup of tea and a blether together as anything else.
Even within the 'gay community', there is a disconnect between the younger generation – who can march in parades, serve in the military, raise children, or whatever – and the older generation, for whom out is not an option. So even for a gay-friendly audience, Tales of the Sauna is an important piece to hear. But maybe I was wrong at the start: this would be an important piece even for doubters to hear, with its fundamental message of the importance of community and human dignity. And dark rooms, and sex mazes, and gimp masks.
Agnew, a former journalist and trade union activist, picks up on the increasingly intemperate contributions from the Catholic Church to the debate on gay marriage – and, remembering that words have consequences, asks us to watch what we say. I say Scott Agnew is one to watch.
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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012. We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.