Review: The Maids

4*
HOME, Manchester until 1st Dec

Based on the true crime story of the murderous duo The Papin Sisters, Jean Genet’s The Maids has come to HOME this Autumn in a radical telling of the infamous story.

The Maids is about two sisters, Solange and Clare, who spend their time role playing increasingly sinister ways of murdering their mistress: wearing her clothes and dramatically reenacting the power structures which define their lives.

The play is both surreal and fantastical – the perfect play to pick apart and write about, decompressing the meaning behind it all.

Interestingly, The Maids is centred around playwright Genet. He’s very much present in the production, overlooking the stage in prison garb, the first character we meet in the play. These interventions remove the audience from the action of the play – ensure that the audience remains uncomfortable – and so I found that I started to view the play as something with meaning, as opposed to a story that I was to feel completely immersed in. It’s an interesting presentation – and left me a lot to think about.

The performances across the board are brilliant, and all of the women in the play are played by men. Again, this brings a level of removal between the characters and the audience – allowing the men to present surface level femininity that could be considered as an exploration of female archetypes and of gender. It’s quoted that Genet wanted the play to be presented in this way with an all male cast, and that he saw himself in the characters – and trying to connect him with the characters is fascinating.

The staging is also worth a mention and was unique and impressive. The use of screens and a handheld camera brought the audience in on uncomfortable action: close ups of faces and of moments that felt vulnerable and were unexpected in a theatrical setting; flowers that were weighted down and thrown like darts to litter the stage.

The Maids makes for a really interesting piece. I imagine the surreality might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it kept me intrigued throughout and the layers of story have had me thinking over it for the rest of the week.

Book Now

© M. Holland 2018

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Review: How To Catch A Krampus

3*
Sink The Pink at The Pleasance Theatre, London
Until 23rd Dec 2018

I’m not 100% sure this play made complete sense but then I didn’t go to see Sink The Pink tell me how to catch a Krampus for the sake of plot. I went to see epic queers don a number of macabre, yet sexy outfits and sing, lip sync, dance and sashay their way through two hours of queermassy good cheer with a ghoulish twist.

Kudos to Ginger Johnson for writing, directing and starring in this madness. She led us through the show with quick wit and cheerful aplomb. She even made a table float. Central to the show was a spooky story about a child going missing and something to do with a half-man, half-goat monster. It was a bit bizarre but there were some epically freaky dolls and much banging. The story was regularly interrupted by campy Vaudeville moments as each cast member got their moment to shine. David Cumming whipped and stripped us through the masochist tango and Mahatma Khandi’s operatic lip sync was bird-explodingly superb. My personal favourite were the Morris dancers with their sexual frustrations, bizarre gender norms and Paul Hollywood worship. Handshakes all round. The guys behind me particularly loved Susan, the one Morris dancer not named Morris and derided as such. The guys loved her so much that they kept shouting for her return. I’m glad they were having such fun. Fortunately, Susan (played by the brilliant Lavinia Coop) did come back to do a saucy Rihanna number, which ended in a hanging. Naturally. Meanwhile, Maxi More proved her impressive flexibility taking on a number of roles, definitely versatile. And Mairi Houston was fab as the moral core of the story – the little girl who’s lost her brother, with an angelic voice and occasionally demonic imagination. I particularly liked it when she couldn’t decide whether to feed her old father more soup or just smother him.

My apologies if you’ve got a little lost in this review, you’ll just have to go see the show. And please do because there isn’t enough queer theatre out there, made by queers and for everyone, because us queers are nice like that. Especially as Christmas can be a time of ramming home occasionally problematic heteronormative practices with chocolate logs and tinsel, it’s nice when the family dynamic gets queered. I did very much enjoy the show but felt it fell between two upturned stools – never quite committing to its story, nor the raucous numbers in between. Nevertheless, I had a queer ol’ time watching this preposterously camp extravaganza and I think you will too. You’ll laugh, you’ll buy alcohol during the interval and you’ll leave not having a fucking clue how to catch a Krampus. Merry Queermas.

Book Now.

©R. Holtom 2018

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Film Review: 1985

4*
Released by Peccadillo Pictures

Pop-culture nostalgia for the recent past insists we remember 1985 for ‘Live Aid’, ‘Back to the Future’ and when Madonna was ‘Crazy for You’.   Yen Tan’s intimate film, however, reminds us that the truth of that time was often far from jubilant.

Shot in Super 16mm Black & White film, the picture is given a kind of timeless feel that, occasionally, made it feel very contemporary.  This is so fitting when considering the film’s themes, which are all things that have not gone away.  The hardships of living with HIV and AIDS, coming out to friends and family, and feeling like you don’t have a place to belong, no matter how hard you try.

1985 was one of the darkest times in our queer story, with so many lives lost to AIDS, that generation still bears the emotional and physical scars.  Knowing that made watching this film a particularly sensitive experience; survivors of that time will watch this with more of a sense of horrid familiarity and knowingness than me, highlighting that queer generation gap:  those who remember the AIDS crisis of the 80s, and those that don’t.  The ‘contemporary feel’ therefore, really packed a punch.

The vaguely kaleidoscopic opening beckons us back in time to meet Adrian, making his way back to his familial home for Christmas.  Even now, this is a moment faced by many people (especially queer folks) as a moment filled with difficulty and even dread.  Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) faces his own bizarre time-travel as he revisits the place of his youth, where time hasn’t moved very fast, and old, familiar faces lurk around every corner.  Meeting Marc (Ryan Piers Williams) from high school at the local store, made for an acutely awkward and note-perfect performance from both actors involved.

When we meet Adrian’s younger brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) we see a boy yearning to enjoy what his oppressive local Pastor calls ‘secular music’, and when we learn of how his posters and cassettes were destroyed by his Father, we get an idea of what Adrian was desperate to leave behind.  Meeting with his vibrant childhood friend Carly (Jamie Chung) we have the fullest picture we can of the youth Adrian had, and often struggled with.

Adrian himself is something of an enigma, difficult to read at times, we see the many walls and defences he has constructed out of a necessity to survive, but that are now suffocating him.  All of them standing in his way as he tries desperately to connect, or reconnect with his roots before it is too late.  He connects easily with his dog, a constant companion who soothes his sobs and rootless soul, knowing well that even this member of his family may well outlive him.

His Mother and Father (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis respectively) give touching performances, wanting so much to connect with their queer son, but never having been taught how to love him in a world that insisted they loathe and shun him.  They put up a good fight, but is it enough?

The film ends with Adrian being the person he needed when he was younger, to his brother.  In a heartbreakingly touching scene we are pained to leave Adrian there, in that time, but we must.  Even though we want so much to go back and help him and his family.

In a way, we still could…

This film is for anyone who wants to understand our forebears better, for anyone who wants to understand their own family dynamic more clearly, for anyone who wants the future to be brighter.

Click here for more info and to find viewing opportunities.

© Jezza Donovan 2018

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Review: Denim: The Reunion Tour

4*
The Soho Theatre, Dean St

Have you ever wondered what it would be like your favorite girl group from a bygone era got back together for a one night only reunion? Well, I now know; it is fabulous. Denim is a fun show. Each of the queens brings something of their off time to the stage, painting a funny and sometimes painfully awkward picture of what happens to girl groups when they fall apart. But for one night they came together, singing a familiar catalogue of songs, slightly altered to be made sexy, filthy, or comment on what had become of these beauties standing before us.

The show was delivered cabaret style, with interludes of stand-up, most of which was pretty solid. One queen; however, made a few off color ISIS jokes which fell pretty flat. She was making a commentary about her race and ethnic origins. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about being made uncomfortable as a white person. Help me to confront my own privilege. But the casual nature of the ISIS references were pretty tasteless, and felt like too much when ironically being conflated with race. Otherwise, the comedy was fairly solid.

The glamour of these reunited angels really is wonderful to witness, even if their lives apart from each other are varied, for one having a group of devoted followers that is more than a little like a cult, or old hits from two members who joined forces. What really did it for me though was at the very end, a rendition of Shakira’s “Underneath Your Clothes”, in a gorgeous falsetto. I was actually moved. This show has a little bit of everything. If you can get through the uncomfortable bits, it will certainly pay off.

Denim are performing at The Soho Theatre until the 1st Dec 2018.  Book Now.

©Sasha Kane 2018

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Guest Blog: ‘Why we decided to make a play about Clause 28’ – Paperclip Theatre

By Jennifer Richards

Considering my previous shows involved robot women, characters playing body parts and crime noir, writing a show set in 1988 and centred on the very real legislation of Clause 28 (which made the promotion of homosexuality illegal in schools) seemed a bit of stretch.

But Adriana Sanford, the director of this play and of Paperclip Theatre (the theatre company I’m in), rang me up at the beginning of the year and asked me to do just that. She said it was 30 years on from Clause 28 this year and considering we had both spoken for a while about how we didn’t see enough lesbian and bisexual women’s stories told on stage, it seemed like the perfect time to do it.

Creating a show around a piece of legislation might sound like the dullest pitch in the world (especially with no robot women in sight), but the impact of this legislation is still felt today.  Yet, simultaneously, many people have not heard of this devastating and homophobic policy. When it was introduced by Thatcher in 1988, many LGBT groups had to self-sensor themselves, with support groups in schools and colleges being closed down as councils worried the work of these groups would breach Clause 28. The LGBT community wasn’t allowed to be exactly that: a community.

As we see with the negative LGBT rhetoric of Trump today, this kind of language and policy simply emboldens and justifies homophobic views. With fears that LGBT rights may be starting to regress again, exploring queer history on stage felt vital. Particularly as we need to remember our history if we want to stop it repeating.

Despite being a queer woman, I actually knew very little queer history back at the beginning of this year, with those who made my school books seeming to have decided it wasn’t worth adding in and leaving me with little knowledge of the LGBT greats (of which there are many).

But I’ve been so grateful that Adriana asked me to write this piece as I now feel more connected to my community than I have ever felt. I got to interview two of the lesbian activists who campaigned against the Clause by abseiling into the House of Lords and crashing BBC News, and I now know how lucky I am to be standing on the shoulders of these great women who have meant a show like this can be staged today.

The show itself, which is titled Dandelion, interlinks the two separate stories of student Claire and her teacher Ann and how they both deal with the fallout from Clause 28. With one discovering her sexuality for the first time, and the other having been in a committed same-sex relationship for two years, we see Claire & Ann learn to navigate a society that enforced silence, oppression and the denial of who are you.

But, if you’re wondering about the title of the play, I’ve also added a little piece of my own queer identity in calling the piece Dandelion. I came out as bisexual to my best friends in my mum’s beach hut, which has a dandelion painted on the back and, since then, it’s always been a queer symbol to me. I wanted to put a little bit of my queer identity into the piece as the play does feel incredibly personal and raw, as writing it has not only shown me how far as a community we’ve come, but also how far we have to go.

Throughout the process of putting this play on, I’ve learnt that telling a story that reflects your own and your community’s experience can actually be a lot scarier than having robot women and body parts come to life. But writing it left me surer of who I am, and even prouder to be a part of this amazing community.

Dandelion will be on at the King’s Head on 16th & 17th December. You can buy tickets at: kingsheadtheatre.com

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Review: Burgerz

By Travis Alabanza
Home, Manchester – 17th Nov 2018
5*

After someone threw a burger at them and shouted a transphobic slur, performance artist Travis Alabanza became obsessed with burgers.

Burgerz is the reclamation of that moment, in which Alabanza takes the burger and makes it their own – taking the burger apart and considering how it looks and feels, our perception of the burger and expectation. The play uses the burger as a jumping point to discuss trans-bodies, violence, and how one can become a protector rather than a bystander.

The performance revolves around a kitchen island, and a member of the audience is asked to help Travis make a burger while they talk together. It mixes hard-hitting subject matter with light-hearted moments, and the audience participation brings a sense of conversation to the piece.

Burgerz is emotional and it’s powerful. The intimacy of watching Alabanza and the audience member converse about their understanding of trans bodies, of gender – of what it is to feel safe, or how we understand violence is like sitting at a table with Alabanza and hearing the truth. And the truth is that it’s hard. That the way trans and non-binary people are treated is deplorable and violent.

Travis shares openly and honestly, and that’s what makes their performance so incredible. Their knowledge of social constructions and how colonisation has lead us to where we are today. Their vulnerability and bravery telling stories of violence they have experienced.

It feels as though vulnerability is at the centre of this performance, and the act of cooking – something that we associate with intimacy and sharing – makes it more so. It’s hard-hitting and at the end I felt emotional. I felt like I could do better and use my privilege and voice better.

If you get the chance to catch Burgerz then please do – I’ll certainly be thinking about it for quite a while. Even in writing this, I feel as though it will be a while before I can articulate how Burgerz made me feel, and how important and relevant it is.

This performance has now closed, but visit Travis’ website for details of future performances.

© M. Holland 2018

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Review: Republica

3*
Voila Festival – The Cockpit
13th-17th Nov. This production has now closed.

Republica starts with a literal bang. One of the performers enters clad from head to toe in a stuffy, black dress only to reveal a fabulous, mostly naked, and feather-adorned body. This body exists in defiance of the oppressive regime that preceded the birth of Spain’s most liberal government to date. The performance artist, wearing either the horns of a devil or a bull, rattles off the many progressive approaches the short-lived government took in this new Spain. This includes LGBTQ rights, rights for women, and unprecedented access to healthcare. He builds excitement, filling the room with colorful banners and balloons, but the audience has trouble matching his enthusiasm.

He is joined onstage by two others, one who accompanies with electric guitar, and his flamenco partner, a regal woman in red who identifies as Spain itself, in all its passion and elegance. “I only dance with the greats,” she offers to her devilish counterpart. And so begins an interpretive retelling of the turbulent years of a distinctly Spanish upheaval. Dialogue largely gives way to impassioned footwork, mournful songs, and bare flesh slathered in red paint. George Orwell even makes an appearance, proudly showing his support for the revolution in his Union Jack boxer shorts. None of what followed was entirely clear to me in terms of historical timeline, perhaps it was a series of impressions, provocations of feeling that was stirred up during this turbulent time. Some of it landed, some of it didn’t.

Watching, I was reminded of a poem by gay, Cuban exile Reinaldo Arenas, in which he says “Flags, flags, front and back. Up and down … flags. Thousands and thousands of flags placed with urgency even in the smallest recesses …” The fervor, the burning taste for change, all of this wrapped in the pride of a nation, the richness of the people, and the shared pain of history. Maybe the fact that this story has been given voice, and performed by those who are so often disenfranchised, ignored, and left out in the rain, is a testament to the power sheer will and cultural belief has on the direction of a nation.

© S.Kane 2018

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