“Bloody strange but not, I have decided, queer”: Ngaio Marsh’s Killer Dolphin (1966), the Theater, and the Sexual Offences Act 1967

A scene from Grace and Frankie

“Theater Is Not for Fags,” the sign reads.  It was brandished, among other such boards, in a rather unconvincing crowd scene in “The Other Vibrator,” the possibly well-intentioned but insipid eleventh episode of Grace and Frankie’s third season, with which I eventually caught up only a few days ago.  The morning after, I finished reading Ngaio Marsh’s Killer Dolphin (1966).  And the way that my wayward mind works, I put it down with that slogan in mind.

Retitled Death at the Dolphin, Marsh’s mystery novel was published in Britain in 1967, half a century before the Grace and Frankie episode first aired.  That means it came before the public just as the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalized consensual – and private – homosexual acts among adult males in England and Wales.  This being Gay Pride month, I am perhaps especially alert to anxieties surrounding gender and queer identity.  At any rate, I detected an unease – or a playful response to public misgivings, actual or perceived –about homosexuality in Marsh’s narrative, which features a single gay character, and a minor one at that, while most of the other players – actors and creatives all – are carefully coupled in more or less, and mostly less, cosy heterosexual bonds.  

Could it be, I wondered, that Marsh, herself a theater director, was sharing the sentiment that public playhouses – in swinging London, to boot – are not a platform for gay men?

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