King’s Head Theatre and Making Productions are pleased to announce casting for Robert Chesley’s play Jerker, which returns to London for the first time in 29 years. Tibu Fortes will play Bert and Tom Joyner will play J R, directed by Ben Anderson. Jerker runs at the Kings Head Theatre between 30 October and 23 November 2019 (press night Friday 1 November).

Jerker has been described as “one of the most important pieces of gay theatre ever created” (Los Angeles Times). It also has the dubious reputation of triggering stricter broadcast indecency guidelines in the US, after excerpts of the play were aired on KPFK Pacific Radio in Los Angeles in 1986. The one and only previous staging of Jerker in London, was directed by Stephen Daldry at the Gate Theatre in 1990.

As the AIDS epidemic intensifies in the early 80’s, Bert and J.R. begin having phone sex. They’ve never met, never seen each other and never touched, but together, they explore their wildest fantasies and the contours of their lonely souls. Both erotic and tender, this intimate two-hander will leave you breathless before breaking your heart.

In addition to its erotic nature, Jerker embodies a deeper social importance. It reflects one of the worst periods in gay history, where the stigma of AIDS hung over the gay community, heightening public prejudice. The fear and silence around this subject was broken by a new wave of plays that began to emerge on the topic, acknowledging the crisis, humanising lives and encouraging the need for a personal response.

In Robert Chesley’s script notes, he says: “I can only hope that Jerker has done and will continue to do some good, with its message of pride in gay identity and honesty about sex.”

Tibu Fortes plays Bert
Tibu trained at the Drama Centre London. Recent theatre credits include: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare’s Globe); Passage to India (Park Theatre); Coconut (Ovalhouse); The Point of It (RADA Fest); Henry V (New Generation Festival); Satyagraha (Improbable) and L.O.V.E. (Volcano Theatre). Recent TV and Film credits include: The Capture (BBC); Johnny English Strikes Again, Eastenders, The Reluctant Landlord (Sky Comedy); People Just Do Nothing (BBC) and Requiem (Netflix).

Tom Joyner plays J R
Tom Joyner graduated from Drama Centre London in 2018. He made his professional debut in Maurice (Above The Stag). His TV credits include: The Trial of Christine Keeler (BBC); Bounty Hunters (Sky One), Alex Rider (Sony TV); Waiting (Comedy Central). Credits while training include: The Mercy Seat; Lungs; The Effect.

Directed by Ben Anderson
Ben is a Junior Associate of the King’s Head Theatre. Directing credits include: Keys (Lion and Unicorn Theatre), Steep Themselves in Night (The Other Palace), A Bench at the Edge (Hen & Chickens Theatre, The King’s Arms Theatre). Associate credits include: Trainspotting Live (The Vaults and Edinburgh Fringe). Assisting credits include: Creep (Theatre Royal Plymouth), Le Nozze di Figaro (Britten Theatre), (sorry) (Assembly, The Box); In The Locked Room/ The Lighthouse (Britten Theatre); Sex With Robots and Other Devices, King Tut: A Pyramid Panto, Tosca and Outlaws to In-Laws (all at The King’s Head Theatre).

Written by Robert Chesley
Robert Chesley was born March 22, 1943 in Jersey City, New Jersey and was raised in Pasadena, California. After receiving his B.A. in Music from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1965, he spent ten years teaching at a private school in upstate New York. During this period, he also composed prolifically. From 1965 to 1975 Chesley composed the music to over five dozen songs and choral works, chiefly to texts by poets such as Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, James Agee, Walter de la Mare, Gertrude Stein and Walt Whitman. His instrumental works include the score to a 1972 film by Erich Kollmar.

In 1976, he came out as a gay teacher and moved to New York City. During the next few years, his essays and theatre criticism appeared in Gay Community News, The Advocate, Gaysweek, The San Francisco Review of Books, The Bay Guardian and The New York Native.
Chesley began writing for gay theatre in 1980. In that year his first play, a one-act titled Hell, I Love You was produced by Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Productions of his subsequent plays followed in San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles, as well as in cities throughout the United States and in Toronto and London. Night Sweat became the first produced full-length play to deal with the AIDS crisis, when staged by Meridian Gay Theatre, New York City in 1984. Jerker or the Helping Hand had its premiere at the Celebration Theatre, Los Angeles in 1986. A subsequent radio broadcast by KPFK-Los Angeles of excerpts from the play prompted the Federal Communications Commission to attempt broadcast censorship for the first time since 1975. Jerker has since become Chesley’s most performed play.

Chesley moved to San Francisco in the early 1980s. He resided there for most of the remainder of his life and there, on December 5, 1990 he succumbed to an AIDS-related illness after a battle of almost three years. Dog Plays (a trilogy of one-acts) and Private Theatricals: Morning, Noon and Night, written during these final years, have both been performed posthumously.

Robert Chesley leaves a literary legacy of 10 full-length plays and 21 one-acts, as well as short stories, novels, an opera libretto, and the text for a dance-theatre piece. The catalogue of his music lists more than 60 works composed between 1964 and 1976, and includes songs for solo voice, choral pieces and instrumental works. Major plays produced during his lifetime have all been published: Stray Dog Story by JH Press, Jerker in both the Grove Press anthology Out Front and in the Alamo Square Press collection Hard Plays/Stiff Parts: The Homoerotic Plays of Robert Chesley (with Night Sweat and Dog Plays). In 2005 Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. published a collection of his plays which includes Stray Dog Story, Jerker, and Dog Plays.

Robert Chesley was a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Society of Gay and Lesbian Composers.