REVIEW: Dumbledore Is So Gay (Southwark Playhouse, Borough)

Content Warning: Dumbledore Is So Gay contains strong language, sexual references and themes of racism, homophobia, suicide, and sexual assault. It is recommended for ages 14+

Following runs at VAULT Festival (where it won the 2020 VAULT Festival Origins Award) and Pleasance London, Robert Holtom’s Offie-nominated play Dumbledore Is So Gay returns to London this summer; this time apparating to Southwark Playhouse, Borough. Filled with noughties nostalgia, it’s a funny and relatable production about coming out, growing up and embracing your inner Hufflepuff.

Jack (Alex Britt) is a Potterhead in need of a powerful Patronus to protect him from Slytherinesque school bullies and the horrors of French class. Like all well-written schoolboy protagonists, Jack has a pair of trusty best friends, Ollie (Martin Sarreal) and Gemma (Charlotte Dowding) to help him through hard times. But there are some things that it’s hard even to tell your best mates; like the fact you have a massive crush on one of them. After a disastrous first attempt at coming out and getting together with Ollie, Jack decides to pick up the pieces of his shattered life in the only way he knows how; by using a time turner to return to the start of the play. But when his perfect ending doesn’t pan out, it’s back to the beginning again. Will Jack ever find a route to happiness by revisiting the past or will he eventually have to face his future, scars and all?

Charlotte Dowding, Alex Britt and Martin Sarreal. Photo credit: David Jenson.

Despite playing out a variation on the same story three times in its single 75 minute act, the production remains engaging, thanks to pacy direction from Tom Wright. Britt is endearing as Jack, while Dowding and Sarreal both demonstrate exceptional range in an array of roles that they switch between at lightning speed, with no Polyjuice potion required. An especially entertaining moment sees Dowding look knowingly at the audience before embarking on a scene of dialogue between two of her characters.

Although there are plenty of laughs along the way, it’s by no means all unicorns and love potions. It’s a very real depiction of the struggles that so many young gay people continue to face. Holtom’s writing is effective, carefully layering lighter pop culture references with the harder hitting moments, although the messaging towards the end lacks subtlety. And while some members of the LGBTQ+ community might raise an eyebrow at a play which feels in places like a love letter to Harry Potter, it is an authentic representation of many people’s experience growing up gay in the noughties. (Holtom also manages to successfully get in some swift but suitably pointed digs at J.K. Rowling.)

Overall, Dumbledore Is So Gay is a witty and charming production that will conjure up nostalgic memories for many gay teenagers of the noughties, from holding hands under the classroom table to sticky nights at Heaven nightclub.

Dumbledore Is So Gay plays at Southwark Playhouse, Borough from 16 August to 23 September 2023. We received complimentary tickets to the press performance on 18 August.

Photo credit: David Jenson