Coming up: Bechdel Theatre Fundraiser

Wed 4th July, 7pm

Bechdel Theatre, the campaign which uses the Bechdel test to highlight gender representation on stage, are holding a one-off drag and cabaret night on July 4th at Styx Bar in Tottenham Hale.

In a night that will centre around Drag Kings, rather than Queens, Bechdel Theatre will celebrate their gender-blurring cabaret heroes. They’ll be welcoming to the stage some of their favourite star acts alongside some brand new ones, including recent graduates of Soho Theatre’s Cabaret & Drag Lab and Pecs Drag Camp, all performing to raise funds for their annual trip to Edinburgh Fringe.

The duo behind Bechdel Theatre are Beth Watson and Pippa Sa. They said: “We’re looking forward to throwing an ultra-queer party during London’s Pride Week. We’re also excited to use an evening of joyous revelry to introduce theatre audiences who may not have experienced drag beyond conventionally commercial Queens to an art form that is filled with liberation, lust, political immediacy, and raw creativity.”
The evening is titled ‘Drag To Watch Out For’ in a tribute to their hero, Alison Bechdel, whose famous comic strip ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’ (from which the test originates) features a character who regularly performs as a Drag King.

All proceeds from the event will go towards producing Bechdel Theatre’s famous stickers which allow productions at crowded Theatre festivals to identify on their posters when they pass the Bechdel test, and the Bechdel Theatre Podcast which amplifies under-represented voices in theatre. They hope to raise £2000 to pay for their annual Fringe campaign which helps feminist audiences to find the shows that they want to see and support.
Tickets are on sale now (on a Pay What You Can Afford sliding scale)

Review: Bingo

The Pleasance Theatre
By Alan Flanagan

‘I love being a boy’ proclaims Cormac in a personal response to getting off with other men, this all within the opening minutes of Bingo, a new play by Alan Flanagan. This production is not only refreshingly queer sex positive but also explores the homing pigeon nature of being from Irish blood and most importantly lets us into a world where we see a young man contract HIV and just about every other STI and STD in the book.

Flanagan as a performer has a good command of language, with a lack of pretence. In a sense the way he speaks is for the people. Cormac is not a character but a real person talking to us; he is not adhering, expectant or elitist; this is something not showcased enough in British theatre. There were some patches of monotony in the action and I may not have got all the guts that were potentially in the piece but I did get a lot of heart and soul.

Flanagan’s writing is the strength of the show and the journey switches between past memories of family, Ireland, boyhood, sex and a more present day context of contracting HIV. The script went from strength to strength and the finer detail really lay in the foray into abstract fantasies. Cormack at one point divulges his obsession with the actress Amy Adams in where he goes to her house and smashes her head open pulls out her brain and rubs it all over himself to become the ‘genius’ that she is. There is also a beautiful motif of a TFL DLR blow up steering wheel enwrapped in a story between Cormac and his GP that took on a greater meaning about how we connect to each other and the unorthodox relationships we share.

The sex positive nature of Cormac gave the production a progressive element. He speaks about sex freely and his nonchalant attitude toward sodomy was blunt and to the point. This urged the audience to remove their sex taboo and allowed us to think about the pleasure of having and enjoying sex in whatever way you want to “It feels good to fuck and it feels good when you do it like an animal”.

Direction wise the work could have benefited from more creative expression. I would have liked to see Hutton’s influence take Cormac through a greater range of experiences physically and emotionally as at times the layers and shifts of the converging storylines were lost within the action. I felt the need for further conceptualisation and in moments wanted a directorial push on the performer to go deeper as Cormac’s responses to what he was going through occasionally felt surface bound.

Bingo is appropriately humorous, enough for you to laugh at without taking away from the serious more political undertones of the play, it is honest, uplifting and had strong colloquial and physiological writing that you wanted to fall further into. The gay character profiling was not revolutionary but I did believe Cormac, his story and was on his team. I found myself amused, intrigued and walked away with a lasting impression of this mans journey.

Bingo is showing at The Pleasance Theatre until 24th June. Book now.

© Bj McNeill 2018

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Interview: Alan Flanagan

Alan Flanagan’s new piece, Bingo, comes to The Pleasance Theatre, London this June. In it we follow the life of Cormac, an Irishman determined to unspool his sexual history, focussing on the moments he takes an STI test and discovers he has… EVERYTHING!  LGBTQ Arts’ Bj McNeill caught up with Alan to find out more about this piece.

Bj: Can you tell me a little bit about Bingo?

AF: Bingo is the story of a guy called Cormack, who is rather sexually free. He goes for his first STI check up and the stars align for whatever reason and the doctor turns to him and says ‘you have pretty much everything’. It’s a story about when something tragic happens, and it’s so tragic that it becomes comedic all over again and Cormack starts to wonder, how the hell has this happened to me?

Bj:Why is Bingo important for our contemporary society?

AF: I think it’s one of those things where everyone knows that it is really important to go for STI check ups but everyone is still a bit terrified and uncomfortable talking about it. That is why I wanted to write the show. It’s one of those weird things where it is pretty much relevant to pretty much everyone, yet so few people seem to want to talk about it. If you are afraid or are unwilling to talk about it or if you’re not willing to go for a test then it is a case where you don’t know what you’re walking around with basically.

Bj: What was your process for writing this particular play?

AF: It was two things actually… A while ago, about a year and a half ago when I was in for my regular check up. I was sitting with the doctor and she did that kind of, the pause that they (Doctors) sometimes do when your mind fills in all the blanks and you go oh my god this is going to be some big news…then it was nothing. However in that moment I thought: god, what if she just started reading a list and it was just the list of things that I had contracted, how ridiculous and how horrible and how strange that would be, that’s when the idea came to my head.

Then the point at which I felt the need to write the play was when I went back to the same clinic. It’s near my house, so close that I can jog there, so I was jogging there and I literally ran into a locked door with a sign on it saying we shut down. There was no correspondence to the people in the neighbourhood, there were no texts sent out, even though they have patients numbers, they just shut down. That’s happening everywhere. So that inspired me to actually get off my arse and write the show because I think it’s something that is not being talked about enough and because its not being talked about enough its very very easy to gut the funding; people are uncomfortable about campaigning about it. Usually it gets left to queer people. We are the ones that are fighting for sexual health. That’s why I wanted to write the show, it was an in on that whole debate and an in on a path that’s really strange, weird, funny, interesting and specific but also talks about the idea of sexual health in a wider context.

Bj: How important is it for you to focus your work on the LGBTQ+ community and why?

Out of pure selfishness, because I want to see more of myself. I think that’s why more diversity in writing is helpful because that selfish gene comes up and the writer goes well I want to see more people like me because I don’t see many of them. Basically I’m just incredibly selfish [he laughs] but apart from that, there are so many interesting stories in the queer community, historically there always has been. But now we are all in this weird kind of almost teenage like years where its kind of like everyone said ‘yes you’re ok, most of you are ok, some of you were not ok with but most of you are ok, but as long as you kind of act like this and do this and be straight’ I find that a really weird thing because it’s not this fighting for acceptance but there is all this stuff going on underneath where you go: oh wait we’re not normal and we never wanted to be normal, so why do we have to act normal now? Within that arena there are so many weird, interesting stories. I think there is just a lot to work with when you are working with queer stories in a way that there aren’t always with people who don’t have the same history as us.

Bj: What is the political strength of the play?

AF: That you experience it through a person that you understand, like, comprehend and sympathise with. I think that’s the only way to think about (political) things, to go: this could happen to anyone but (in Bingo) it’s specifically happening to this person, Cormack, who you care about and you like. I think that if you go into a political drama that’s waving its flag and going I’m political drama, it can make me often disagree because I feel like I’m being lectured. This show you just walk in and there is this guy telling you the story of what happened to him. And throughout that sympathy, you think ok, what is the wider context? With anything political you have to start with characters and interesting ideas and the politics get layered on top.

Bj: What do you hope to give to your audience?

AF: Offer people a good time and a perspective that they genuinely have never heard before, make them disagree with each other, that’s always fun.

Bj: During this process did you discover any darker implications from contracting an STD or STI that you didn’t know about?

AF: You know what? Weirdly the opposite in a lot of ways, I talked to a lot of doctors about it and people that are HIV positive to make sure that I had fairly rounded perspective on things. There were things that I wasn’t aware of like the idea of biological children and that it’s possible if you’re HIV positive and I didn’t know that hepatitis clears up on its own in most cases. I found a lot of positives in it. One doctor told me that he really likes working in sexual health for that reason; it’s the one area of health where you can usually turn to someone and say you’re going to be fine. In most areas of medicine that’s not the case.

Bj: What about cuts to sexual health within the NHS?

AF: The bad things I discovered were to do with funding. The constant conversation at the clinic is; the cuts the cuts the cuts, how up against the wall everyone in sexual health is and how much people don’t know about it. That’s been a really sad thing, seeing all these really talented hardworking people going I don’t know where my job is going to be in a year. The government just keep cutting and cutting and cutting funding and no body is talking about it. That is what was really depressing is that we’ve come so far, especially with things like HIV and then you have government saying well no we wont prescribe PrEP we’ll do a trial instead even thought trials have been done in many different countries already. That’s what’s infuriating considering we’ve come a hell of a long way.

Bj: With a social climate where funding is needed for so many different causes why sexual health?

AF: You put a pound into sexual health you save £11 down the line its an area of health where you put money in and you save money. Watching that being eroded just pisses me off.

Bj: Finally, why should people come to the show?

AF: They will have a great time! I did not write the show to be a difficult harrowing experience; it’s going to be a good time!

Bingo runs at The Pleasance, London from 5th June – 24th.  Book Now.

Interview © BJ McNeill 2018

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Travel: The Cliftonville Townhouse, Margate

The Cliftonville Townhouse, Margate
Run by: Simon Bell & Stephen Darrer
Cost: £££ (Med. £89 – £99 p/n for 2 adults)
Date of stay: Aug 2017

A 15 minute walk from the town centre, this gorgeous townhouse has three beautifully light and contemporary rooms up for grabs.  All of the rooms are equipped with tea and coffee making facilities as well as some yummy snacks (read Tunnocks teacake, which always trumps a digestive).  There’s plenty of hot water, and if you book one of the rooms with a roll-top bath it’s perfect to come back and warm up after a cold dip in the sea.  You have access to their Netflix and lovely Stephen was on hand throughout our stay to answer any questions and offer advice on the local area.

We stayed here last year for Pride, and on greeting us, I think the host Stephen was just as excited as we were and we were soon chatting away about the weekend ahead. Margate Pride is a relatively small one still and perhaps the solution if you find London Pride too huge and commercial.  With only a handful of trailers in the parade and local businesses joining the march it’s a friendly and fun affair, in spite of the low key parade it felt as though the whole town had shown up to celebrate. This year it’s taking place on August 11th.

Don’t miss out on taking a dip in the Walpole Tidal Pool, minutes from The Cliftonville Townhouse, delightfully refreshing on a hot summer’s day or to cure a post-Pride hangover, and completely beautiful.  Also a good size for a decent swim!  Check your tide times though, it disappears incredibly quickly when the tide comes in.

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Margate has a growing arts scene and is packed with vintage shops and antique stores, which are fun to browse if you love bargain hunting.  We particularly enjoyed popping to Margate Arts Club, which was hosting an evening in celebration of Pride, with the absolutely brilliant Amy Grimehouse DJing. There was a relatively small crowd gathered, but a friendly queer vibe and it felt inclusive, so definitely worth checking out what’s on their bill.

Highlight:  The Breakfast at Cliftonville Townhouse, lovingly made and delivered to your room by Stephen. Ours featured a charcuterie, freshly made smoothies, compote and granola, slow roasted tomatoes, fresh fruit, cheese, coffee and bread basket (Veggie option available.)  Leave plenty of time to eat it. It’s huge!



Problems:  We had none whatsoever with the Cliftonville Townhouse.  One problem we had was finding a restaurant in Margate to eat at on Saturday night.  They were all fully booked, and seemed to close quite early, so I would say definitely book if you want to be sure of somewhere good to eat.

Where else to Visit:  Margate has plenty on offer.  There’s Dreamland if you enjoy retro theme park type attractions, but if you’re on a tighter budget the Turner Contemporary is free to get in to and has lots of exciting stuff happening.  Also take a wander along Harbour Arm and stop for a coffee, a beer or a freshly caught crab.  We also enjoyed loved Cheesy Tiger (@tiger_cheesy) which specialises in cheese centred meals. It’s a lovely place to sit out and watch as the sun sets.

Book Cliftonville Townhouse now. 

Article: Here’s something new from us – Holiday and Hotel Reviews

So here’s a new thing we’re going to start doing on the website. Holiday and accommodation reviews.

I was having a conversation with a friend recently about travelling abroad.  I was saying how we’d looked in to going to Malaysia this year, but when I checked their attitude to LGBT+ relationships, I changed my mind, as their track record on LGBT+ rights isn’t great and you can still be prosecuted there and just last year the Pride march was cancelled as a result of pressure from certain groups. She was surprised that this was something I have to do before going on holiday, but of course, for many of us – it’s one of the first things we check.

Generally travelling around Europe, and parts of America / Asia it is absolutely fine, but there can still be seemingly small incidents that can affect the enjoyment of a holiday.  Every time I book a holiday there’s always that niggle in the back of my head, are they going to check then double check that my partner and I are ABSOLUTELY sure we want a double room?  Are we greeted by his and hers towelling robes and flip flops on arrival?  Are we constantly referred to as ‘friends’, even after correcting people several times?

So, in order to help out a bit I’m sticking a new section on the website. Places we’ve been and have had absolutely no issue with being a same sex couple, some places run by LGBT+ management and others that are just super lovely and inclusive. So that next time you’re going on a break with someone completely awesome – or if you’re heading off on a solo adventure and want to find somewhere super inclusive, you can head off and enjoy, without having any niggles.

I’ll do my best to include a number of places to suit all budgets, UK and further afield, with. And if you’ve been somewhere that you think deserves a mention, drop me a line and we’ll include it on the website.

I’ll be writing this from my experience as a cis woman in a same sex relationship, but will always aim to remain mindful of the entire community in the blog.

So keep an eye out for a new section on the website and Happy Holidays my darlings!

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Review: Grotty

On at The Bunker Theatre, London until 26th May 2018

Izzy Tennyson’s new play Grotty, directed by Hannah Hauer-King, certainly evokes an air of grottiness; a nose dive into lesbian subculture, it is somewhat dispiriting, whilst unwaveringly captivating. I have to admit, I’m a die hard romantic, so watching a series of harrowing lesbian dating experiences wouldn’t be my natural choice for an evening out, however, Grotty offers something important in terms of a comment on lesbian subculture and won me over with its edgy comedy and political comment. It felt reminiscent of ‘Fleabag’ – and if you enjoyed that, I anticipate you may enjoy this.

As it points out, lesbian culture is usually confined to basements below heaving gay bars, it’s an environment that has the potential to breed a whole range of difficult things, including mental health issues and addiction. Grotty explores the knock on effect of what happens when people become submerged in such environments and the impact they can have on one another, as we see through the character of Rigby (Izzy Tennyson) a young lesbian woman new to the scene. Her choices of where to meet other gay or bisexual women are extremely limited. Tennyson plays her as almost a clown, certainly a caricature: coked up, gurning and sniffing – if anything I wanted to see her physicality change alongside her character’s journey. However Tennyson fully committed to the role, and carried the bulk of the show with incredible skill. One of my favourite performances of the evening was probably Rebekah Hinds as the straight best friend, she played the character with accurate idiosyncrasies whilst avoiding blatant stereotypes, meaning that she was nothing short of hilarious. It’s also important to mention Anita-Joy Uwajeh and Grace Chilton who give incredibly strong performances throughout and who’s characters bought a good balance to the piece.

In another note, huge kudos to Damsel for not shying away from presenting ‘grotty’ women on stage, all too often women in theatre are perfect and preened, it was so utterly refreshing to see an alternative representation of women, it’s very much needed.

Despite the drama, devastation and drugs, there was a shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I’m torn between recommending this show to young lesbian and bisexual women, and keeping them well away. Had I have seen this 10 years ago it could well have terrified me back in to the closet, or alternatively pre-warned and protected me against some of my own turbulent lesbian dating experiences. Either way, in a world where theatre with lesbian characters is scarce, and where ‘good’ theatre with lesbian characters is scarcer, this certainly ticks both boxes and is a timely and important piece to exist on the LGBT+ theatre landscape.

Book now

Review © Amie Taylor

Image © The Other Richard

Review: Panel/ Women in SVoD: Equity on Demand

Part of: Pilot Light TV Festival (Manchester)

Season 3Equity on Demand was a fascinating and relevant talk about the future of online streaming and diversity in the television industry. Headed by Kirsten Stoddart with Delia-Rene Donaldson (Writer, Venus vs Mars, Sky Living) and Jo McGrath (Co-founder, Walter Presents) – it brought together industry specialists to discuss where women currently stand in television and in SVoD, and to understand what the future looks like.

Television writing has a disappointingly low average for women writers at fewer than 30% working on Fiction series television. It’s even worse when you consider directors – with only around 11%. In some ways, traditional television feels tired, like a closed door afraid of taking risks and programming new, diverse voices.

Equity on Demand was an opportunity to discuss how subscription services and web series have a chance to introduce the diversity we’re desperate for as viewers and to give people a chance to tell their stories. As a whole, the services are less cliquey and able to access audiences who might not watch traditional television.

The panel discussed whether or not there was a need for a big initiative and push in the UK to make change and ensure writing rooms were more inclusive – whether through new regulation or commitment to interview. They felt it would be disappointing for it to come down to regulation – when it’s as simple as the fact that writer’s rooms should really be an equally weighted split of people who are able to accurately write characters that reflect their own experiences.

Following this, the panel discussed how women are more likely to hire women – offering the industry more role models and mentors.

The session was exciting and intriguing – it felt like an open door to a more exciting world of entertainment. In the last few years, binge watching has changed how we watch drama: it’s an immersive ritual that allows ourselves to become part of another world. It will be interesting to see what surprises this brings as it develops: genres flipped on their heads, new formats, more diversity. I certainly look forward to seeing how the LGBTQ community is integrated into this experience and the changes that are made moving forward.

© M. Holland 2018

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