An Interview with Dennis Clements

Actor Dennis Clements joins Honi to discuss his queer sex-positive show French Letters and Leather Cleaner.

Photography by Matthew Miceli

Hi Dennis! Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you start us off with a little bit about the show?

It’s called French Letters and Leather Cleaner and it’s been written by a fantastic writer called Laurent Auclair. I play Robbie and he calls himself a 79er, not a 78er, because he arrived one year too late. He owns a sex shop which has a “tunnel of love” in the back, and it is a sex on premises venue which sells sexual aids and the like. He has a young non-binary colleague working in the store, and the show is about their relationship and Santi, the drag queen who is Robbie’s best friend. It’s about how that evolves once a straight couple enters the store, and the logistics that happens between the five of them. My character is struggling to keep the store open as Oxford Street is changing. He is exploring his role in a new community, a more universal, open, kinder, queer identity, what is his role and his store’s role in the new normal?

How would you say cross-generational relations in the queer community have evolved since you were younger?

It’s around different battles. When I was younger, the real battle was for legal equality, and that happened in my lifetime. Then the battle was for recognition of same-sex marriage, and that happened. The change, these days, is far more about personal, individual identity, the exploration of non-binary and trans identities which were not as visible when I was younger. Different generations are fighting different key battles. It’s sad we’re still fighting, but it’s very interesting that there’s still support.

It’s been a great delight for me doing this play, I’m this old dinosaur and I’m working with this fantastic bunch of 20-something creatives who have the most extraordinary energy, and lift me up, sweep me along in my old, decrepit bones. I can give them a little bit of wisdom from my creaky old years, and they give me the gorgeous energy that they have, so committed to creating amazing works of theatre. It’s great for my soul.

What would you say is the importance of the sex-positivity within the play?

I think the key role of those themes in the writing is to demystify the taboos around sex. That sex is dirty, or the stigma around sex outside relationships, and the setting of the sex shop demystifies sex as just something we do. We have a cocktail and we have a tea and we have sex, and it makes sex a natural, everyday experience. The sex shop is just like buying a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, it’s such a crucial element of life, but we attach unwanted trauma to it when the experience could just be enjoyable, a celebration of our physicality, love, and intimacy.

What does it mean for you to have Australia’s queer community platformed on a stage like World Pride?

I think it is fantastic. As I say, Oxford Street and the queer community in Sydney has changed so incredibly since I arrived in the 80’s. It was a niche of creativity, exploration, life affirmation, and the level of excitement has become more mundane. We are accepted, we are visible, and we are becoming a little boring in many ways. To be put on the world stage again forces a focus back on ourselves and our community. The play explores this in a very commercial way. It isn’t didactic, it is very fun and silly and full of gags, drag queens and dildos and all sorts of things, but it kind of asks if we’re happy with who we’ve become, and do we want to be this? We still have the choice to be who we want and to find out where it leads us.

Do you have any last comments or things to share?

I would love to draw a huge amount of focus to my castmates: Robbie Wardhaugh, Mat Oldaker, Marty Quinn, Kayla-Rose De Sousa. The energy of these people invigorates me, and it’s so great to see a young director like Sean Landis put this together with his cohorts at Fruit Box. The passion they have for new queer theatre is exciting, and really needs to be highlighted. They are truly committed to expanding and exploring queer culture and giving everybody a voice.

You can catch French Letters and Leather Cleaner, presented during World Pride, at KXT from the 10th to 24th of February.