John O’Hara’s #VAL a glittery ode to queer men and their mums

John O'Hara.
John O'Hara.

BUBBLES of an idea for his new cabaret show #VAL: a glittery ode to queer men and their mums developed in Wicked and Cats music theatre performer John O’Hara during last year’s Australian plebiscite for marriage equality.

“My mum Val is a supportive, open-minded woman who raised me and my brother, who is a very heterosexual man, married with two kids,” O’Hara said.

“What I’ve learnt as I’ve got older is that she never treated either of us differently, she never raised us differently, spoke to us differently or viewed us as different.

“She just got so angry and offended, more than I was, about what people were saying about the LGBTIQ community.

“I was astounded and asked her why she was so upset because I wasn’t that upset, that stuff had always been said about us. She said the thing that bothered her was some people close to our family had viewed me as ‘less than’ for my whole life without her knowing it. I asked her ‘Less than what?’ and she replied ‘Less than your brother’.”

John and Val O’Hara.

The 39-year-old WAAPA graduate grew up in Perth and is now based in Melbourne, but has returned home to premiere #VAL, written for a season at Downstairs at the Maj.

He said the show was a semi-autobiographical way to pay homage to the idea of mother, inspired by his mum, but really exploring what mothers mean to the community on a broader scale.

“Sometimes mothers are not biological, sometimes you pick your mother figure,” O’Hara said.

“My mum is definitely a mother figure to lots of people. I never knew anything different, so for a long time I didn’t see her as support, I just assumed that’s what everyone had.

“But as I got older and was lucky enough to travel a lot and work abroad a lot, I realised my circle of friends, who are an eclectic mix of artistically-minded people, didn’t all have families as open-minded as my mum was.”

Set to a pop soundtrack, O’Hara is inviting audiences to sit around his ‘camp’ fire to listen to songs and stories, some funny and others poignant.

“The show is very Perth-centric because most of it is set here while I was growing up,” he said.

“At first Mum was apprehensive because the idea of attention being on her is very scary and she doesn’t like it; she’s the complete opposite of me.

“She would be mortified if I brought her on stage, so I won’t be doing that.”

Val and John O’Hara.

THE ESSENTIALS

What: #VAL

Where: Downstairs at the Maj

When: September 13-15

Tickets: www.ptt.wa.gov.au/val