At Above The Stag (Studio Theatre), London until 9th June
Above the Stag theatre is known as the UK’s only professional, full-time LGBT Theatre. Working as a charity, they invest every penny into the theatre. The theatre bar is a spacious area, and, lo and behold, a fabulous universal loo was on offer. 7 cubicles (with doors that open outward for ease of use) placed around a circular sink shared happily by all. A side room off that contains a urinal for a speedier wee if you prefer. Nice and neat, clean and widely accessible, most venues could take a leaf from their book…or indeed their toilet paper…
‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ was written by Jonathan Harvey (now surely bordering on ‘National Treasure’ territory) in the mid-90s, first performed at the Bush Theatre in 1995. Lee (skilfully played by the immediately likeable Adam McCoy) is desperate to enjoy his first Eurovision after the death of his beloved partner from a brain tumour. The fact that most people thought it was a cover up for him ‘actually dying of AIDS’ creates a sharp and painful conflict that jars the soul.
Andrew Beckett’s set creates a mid-90s ‘des-res’ in a beautifully immersive use of the space; the audience is confronted by a pair of trainers and an ironing board that have seen better days upon entering, as if we are also invited to the hallowed ‘gay christmas’ of Lee’s Eurovision Party. There is nostalgia here if you want it, the vhs tapes, cassettes and lack of mobile phones remind us that it was a very different time, but the themes and characters are still very much the people living next door to you today.
Eurovision fans will love the references galore to previous entries, and we can only wonder what the characters from 90s London would make of modern Europe, Eurovision and ‘the B word”. Comedy is in every breath, almost a laugh on every line; but everyone’s personal tragedy and sadness is only seconds away from overwhelming them. Love could do with shining more of a light on this particular north London abode.
The pace is swift and enjoyable, with a strong ensemble feel. Joshua Coley as Norman (the neighbour you love-to-avoid) delivers a comedy tour-de-force, you can hear the giggles as soon as his feet hit the stage.
Tori Hargreaves and Florence Odumosu (Wendy and Tania respectively) hide their pain in plain sight, fuelling each others destructiveness, in pitch-perfect performances that conveyed messages that lingered long in my mind. Homophobia (both internalised and externalised), lesbophobia and misogyny remind us sharply of the futility of inter-LGBT bigotry and aggression, when really we are the most natural of allies. Set up against each other by the world at large, we bring the ‘enemy into the room’, when in reality it’s outside and ought to stay there. ‘Steph’ (a confident creation of Christopher Lane’s) left one audience member musing ‘he makes you wonder how you’ll end up…’. We can only hope that we will all end up rising like a phoenix from the ashes…
For anyone who want’s “All Kinds of Everything”, for anyone who likes “Only Teardrops” with their comedy, ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ will deliver, and you’ll be humming Eurovision tunes on the way home whether you like it or not!
© Jezza Donovan 2019