Theatre review*: Dumbledore Is So Gay

Written by Robert Holtom, directed by Tom Wright, performed at the VAULT Festival

Barbara Kolaric
6 min readFeb 28, 2020

What elements do you need to put together a thoroughly magical play?

(You may take a second to think about it.)

A gripping, original (and fun) playtext. A talented crew. Three wonderful actors. Three wooden crates. One Time Turner. And a magic wand and a book of spells.

No, wait… You can cross out those last two items from the list, the rest will be quite enough.

Now, I am usually not the one to say it, or let alone to open a review by claiming that something is a must-see, but, since we are talking about a festival and time is of the essence, I will make an exception this time. Which in itself might be a good enough hint that the play in question is rather extraordinary, and that, if you manage to look past its somewhat silly title (especially if you are like me, and any references to Harry Potter immediately make you think that the thing in question might just be for someone a bit younger), you might find that there is plenty to fall in love with in Dumbledore Is So Gay.

Image credit: Gabriel Mokake

Dumbledore Is So Gay is a story about growing up… a little different. In a world which expects a boy to find a girl, hold hands and (eventually) be happy ever after, Jack is twelve years old and he wishes nothing more than to hold hands with a boy. And not just any boy, but his best friend, Ollie. Jack is also a big Harry Potter fan (hence the Dumbledore reference). And Jack is growing up feeling that nobody understands him. The kids at school don’t understand him. His professors don’t understand him. His parents don’t understand him. Jack’s community doesn’t understand him, either. Even Ollie doesn’t seem to understand him. In fact, the only other gay person he knows, his neighbour Norman, is a local recluse, labeled as a weirdo and often bullied by the older boys. And so Jack decides it is best to keep his secret to himself, afraid of being exposed and picked on because of who he really is, until one day he is caught off guard by an unexpected kiss. Things, like an uncontrollable avalanche, unravel from there. Jack admits to being gay to his parents, who, rather expectedly, take turns blaming each other — equally mortified and clueless on what to do now that they know their son is, well, different. A little older and more brave by then, Jack discovers the gay community in London, crazy nights out, parties and freedom. And despite wanting nothing more than for Ollie to be his forever person, life, sadly, doesn’t take Jack, or Ollie, in that direction, with a tragic outcome.

It is then that Jack does what any true Harry Potter fan would do: he uses his Time Turner (for the uninitiated, like myself: a Time Turner is, according to a Harry Potter fan site, a magical device used for time travel) to go back in time and fix things. And as Jack travels back through time — more than once — he learns that it is not only him and Ollie whom their love story depends on, but the whole of society that surrounds them, and that — if he wishes to turn that story into one with a happy end — he must start by changing everything

Image credit: Gabriel Mokake

It may not sound like much of a plot, but don’t let that deceive you: there are so many wonderful things and messages to be discovered under the seemingly childishly naive surface of this play (which in fact is anything but!), that it is all likely to catch you off guard, just like that unexpected kiss had caught Jack. Robert Holtom’s writing is so beautifully gentle, charming and witty, and yet so insightful and thought provoking, opening up a myriad of important questions between the lines. The shaping of the narrative is also incredibly simple and effective: in Jack’s time-travelling adventures, it’s the little details that make all the difference, and yet, scenes never become tiring, characters are never predictable, even if we have literally just seen the situation they are in moments before (think Groundhog Day, if you cannot imagine what this might look like), and even the exact same words spoken in different contexts often carry largely different meanings. The play never loses pace, thanks to Tom Wright’s tight, perfectly calculated directing. The three young actors give fantastic, compelling performances: Max Percy and Charlotte Dowding thoroughly impress jumping from one role into another (those of Jack’s father/Ollie/various men and Jack’s mother/best friend/high school professor…) with such smoothness and ease that despite the quick changes of settings and characters involved — and almost complete absence of props — we never question who is who. (The play also uses these jumps for a maximally comic effect, most notably in a terrific scene in which Dowding is left to hold a conversation between two characters, both embodied by herself, to an absolutely exhilaratingly funny result!) And Alex Britt’s Jack is consistently adorable, endearing and funny, making it impossible to doubt his love or his determination to get things just right, even for a second.

Image credit: Gabriel Mokake

In short, Dumbledore Is So Gay is a truly wonderful play, which looks at what it is like being yourself — accepting and loving yourself — in a world that makes it difficult (and, why not, to be a Hufflepuff in a world that prefers Gryffindors?). It explores how closely the ability to love yourself is intertwined with the way society and your own community treat you and tell you it is alright to do so, how much your own worldview is compatible to theirs, and — consequently — how much courage it takes to own it and to allow yourself to fully be yourself. Finally, it conveys a message of how important it is to aim to change that society and its attitudes, taking small steps one day at a time, both for ourselves and for those around us (even without the ability to time-travel). In the end, Jack might never get the result he (thinks he) is after, but he — together with the audience — gets to learn a valuable lesson: that the most important love story in the world is the one about accepting and loving yourself for whoever you may be, so that you can then love and accept others.

For all of those things, even as someone who is completely unaffected and unfazed by the whole Harry Potter universe and fandom, I found Dumbledore Is So Gay to be quite an enchanting play.

Seen at the VAULT Festival.
Dumbledore Is So Gay is playing until 1 March.

*The ticket for this performance was gifted.



Barbara Kolaric

Dreamer. Cat person. Londoner. Figuring out how to write about art that challenges me.