Review: Grotty

On at The Bunker Theatre, London until 26th May 2018
4*

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

Advertisements

Review: Panel/ Women in SVoD: Equity on Demand

Part of: Pilot Light TV Festival (Manchester)
4*

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

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 10.13.26.png

Interview: Split Britches

Split Britches are returning to the Barbican Pit this week with their new show Unexploded Ordnances (UXO).  We spoke with Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw to get a bit more info on their latest creation.

I: What inspired you to create UXO? 

LW: Two things, really. The first thing was we came across this term “unexploded ordnance,” which is a buried explosive left behind in an area of conflict. We came across this term, and we have been working with elders because we ourselves are elders. We try to work through our own questions about life in performance and we thought it’s a good metaphor for unexplored potential, especially in elders. So we started playing around with that idea, keeping in mind that it had a military kind of influence. Then Peggy got obsessed with the film Dr. Strangelove, and so we thought we’d use Dr Strangelove as a kind of spine, and built some of these other ideas around it.

PS: I think the other thing is that we hadn’t been in a show together since before my stroke in 2009. So we wanted to make a new show together because we had both been doing solo work. That was our initial reason for doing the show. And the other one came easy once we went to Governors Island and came across the rules that you couldn’t dig in the soil because there might be a Civil War cannonball buried underneath. It was kind of compelling.

I. How would you describe the show to someone coming to see it? 

LW: Over the years we’ve created a way of looking at things in performance. I would say it’s a funny take off on Dr. Strangelove that also seriously looks at all the issues involved. And we parallel that with what it means to get older, to have a short period of time left in your life as an older person compared, to what it might be like to have a short period of time left in your life if there’s a doomsday situation. And so that’s humorous, and it’s also serious, and it’s also inclusive. And it’s visual. And those are all the things Split Britches have always woven together in this multilayered kind of performance.

PS: I feel like, when the audience comes in, already they’re a part of the situation and they see the three maps on the wall and they’re moving and they’re bleeping and because of the lights and the way the audience are set up, that they already feel part of the show, that they’re actually in a room where there’s something going on. And it’s all about time, and they know that they show is only going be an hour, or 59 minutes, and they’re constantly thinking about time, and that there’s always time.

I: The staging and performance of the show draws on the cult Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove, how did that come about? Are you film buffs, or Kubrick fans in particular? 

PS: I feel like what we are is kind of obsessive people, and when we’re working on a project, when something enters our brain it becomes part of our process. And Dr. Strangelove for some reason entered my brain and I wouldn’t give it up. It was so beautifully acted and it was so funny, and it was so much like our work in a way, and there were so many ideas in it.

I: The show involves some members of the audience taking part in the show. What would you say to anyone coming to the show but not sure they would like to take part? 

PS: It’s not necessarily for anyone to take part. We make it so easy for people that they actually get disappointed when they’re not going to be the one at the table. We try to get all the elders in the room. It’s not always the most elderly but it usually is because people have a lot to say right now.

LW: I think that’s right. We’re not asking people to get up there and perform. In fact it doesn’t work when people do that. We’re just asking people to get up and be with us on stage. We just ask people to be themselves and respond to questions. Nobody’s trying to catch anyone out or seeing who’s the cleverest, it’s just about mining, you know, what’s inside an everyday person, which is all of us.

PS: It comes from trying to find the truth, rather than what we’ve been told is going on in the world. We just did a three-week run at La Mama in New York and every night everything everybody said was different. So, you get to find out what the truth is, how do people feel.

I: Although you’re New York based, you have a long history of performing in the UK – when did you first come to Britain? 

PS: Well I first came to London in the early 70s with Hot Peaches and I then went to Amsterdam, and that’s where I ran into Lois and Spiderwoman

LW: I first came to London in 1977 with Spiderwoman Theatre, and then over the years came back, sometimes the whole company, some part of the company, and just kept performing there.

PS: The reason we kept performing there is that there were many festivals in Europe, unlike New York.

LW: We didn’t have any venues in the States at that point that could accommodate a touring company that did any kind of experimental theatre or alternative performance. We experienced a culture of theatre and performance that just didn’t exist in the States.

PS: And we wanted to bring that culture to New York, because there was nowhere for lesbians and women to perform in New York separately from men. So we decided to create that for ourselves.

I: Any outstanding memories of performing here? 

LW: As Split Britches we performed at OvalHouse and then we performed at the Drill Hall. We took our Dress Suits to Hire there and Drill Hall was the site of real queer performance, lesbian and gay performance, so it was great to be there.

I think we spent a lot of good times in the UK. It was the first time that I realized that I could be in a theatrical community where you had access to loads of different kinds of talented people. Whereas I felt like in New York people were very compartmentalized and isolated. It felt like when we went to London we had the opportunity to set up some great collaborations. The other thing we got excited about when we first came to the UK was that people liked to talk about politics. One of the things that had happened in the U.S is that you couldn’t disagree with anybody. If you disagreed with somebody, then you were a communist. I remember when we would sit around a dinner table at women’s houses in London, people were really disagreeing with each other, and it was so refreshing because here, in my experience anyways, people either agreed with you or didn’t, a kind of love you or leave you attitude.

I: Any specific memories about performing in London? 

LW: We had great times performing in London. Coming from New York where the city was open 24 hours a day, it was a bit of a shock to be in a city where everything shut down at 11. And so drinking was a problem, but also getting home was a problem and we didn’t have money in those days so we couldn’t really afford taxis, and so you panicked if it got to be past 11. I remember being at a party and us thinking “oh god how are we going to get home” and these two women were there on motorcycles. They said, “oh we’ll take you home!” and so we each got on the back of their motorcycles and they took us on this wonderful 2am foggy tour, all through all the sites of London.]

Unexploded Ordnances is on at Barbican Pit from 15th – 19th May, it is currently sold out, but stay tuned on the website in case more tickets become available.

Interview © Mobius

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 08.06.00.png

Series Review: Reel Good Film Club Present: Cakes & Candles + Zine Workshop

4.5*

Cakes & Candles follows three queer friends, in a web series where each episode celebrates a character’s birthday. It has the addictive feeling of Skins mixed with the close-knit friendships of Broad City – and it’s something that I’m really excited to see more of.

The first episode gave us a peek at one of the character’s birthday parties. Dee’s shy and introverted – and struggles to navigate the party after her sister invites way too many guests. It gave a hint of what’s to come – three close-knit friends (the sort of friendships you can really invest in) exploring themes of sexuality, gender and race. Even better, it’s beautifully shot and edited – and a pleasure to watch.

Following this, the cast did a reading of episode 2 – and it feels as though they’re on to something that’s going to be well worth watching. The show runners, Julia and Nicky, met at university – and wanted to create a series that was diverse in every sense and could reach as many people as possible. They felt as though representation needs to be more than just a box ticking exercise – only featuring “one lesbian and one black person”. Impressively, they put the time and effort in to casting diversely for their roles and their cast really believe in what the show stands for.

Where it feels like television is making slow progress – it’s really exciting to see a piece of work that represents the LGBTQ community so thoroughly and tells the stories that we’ve definitely been missing. This show is certainly one to watch, and will be online next Sunday.

Follow them at:@kkcandlesseries to find out more or check out the trailer.
Review © M. Holland 2018
Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 16.39.14

Review: Before It Starts

Blue Elephant Theatre
3*

All female company Naked Frank have created a fun, relevant show made for teenagers that aims to tackle homophobia. The work delves into the socio-political nature of homophobia amongst youth and more specifically within a secondary school context. The play’s strengths lay in its political output more than in its artistic form and with the target audience as teenagers, Naked Frank aim for a poignant place to tackle discrimination: Before It Starts.

Lou, Rach and Shan are all best mates and go to the same school. They are navigating the complexity of teenage life: boys, girls, friends, drinking and their boring PSHE lessons. PSHE class comes with an archaic teacher who seldom puts down the dictionary to teach.

The performers followed the courage of their convictions and gave high-energy portrayals never missing a beat. They showed a strong sense of ensemble each in tune with the pace of the work and each other.

It was regressive that the character of Lou was reduced to a “thick” selfie and boyfriend-obsessed female. If we want to also tackle sexual inequality we need to move away from portraying one-dimensional women. Particularly considering that there is a pleather of diverse female characters to explore, the target audience are teenagers and the show is called ‘before it starts’.

The moments of physical theatre were tight and I would love to see them with further development but they became somewhat irrelevant and lost in the whole shape of the piece.

The style and form was appropriately aimed at the teenager’s world with grime style beats and interludes featuring hooded figures who graffiti a brick wall. Again, I would have enjoyed seeing these moments taken further to an abstract or even other worldly place. This would have strengthened the piece and given variation as the show was a little too long and slightly repetitive in moments.

With further development in diving a little deeper politically and taking more risks creatively; this show should be seen by as many teenagers as possible. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community I left the theatre thinking that the importance of this piece lay in why it was created and how great it would have been if I could have seen an artistic work that addressed homophobia when I was growing up.

This production has now closed, but visit: https://www.nakedfranktheatre.com for updates of future performances.

Before It Starts - Image 300pix

Review: Sex/Crime

The Glory London
3*

Sex/Crime offers a very different type of queer narrative. ‘A’ and ‘B’ meet as part of a transaction of criminal/sexual fantasies and money. ‘A’, played by Jonny Woo, offers a specialised service of serial-killer play, which ‘B’, played by playwright Alexis Gregory, has paid for in the hopes of experiencing a ‘climatically authentic experience’. A conflict arises when ‘B’ realises that the play is really just that: play. Not the real thing, not actual death.

Inspired by high profile real-life cases of gay serial killers in the UK, Sex/Crime takes place in a plastic-sheet covered basement in an undisclosed location in London. It explores not just the crossing of moral and legal lines, but also the crossing of genres: is it comedy? Is it drama? Is it satire? Is it all of them? The playwright’s note on the program indicates a hope that the play will make audiences think, feel, and laugh, perhaps all at the same time. That was certainly my feeling throughout: should I be feeling a certain way about it? There were definitely cleverly-timed jokes, as well as thoughtfully-performed moments of intensity, but I couldn’t distinguish whether what I was feeling was good or bad.

As ‘A’ and ‘B’, Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory explore familiar themes of queerness, but in a novel, extreme setting. What is the meaning of intimacy, connection, touch, trauma, pain, happiness, power, violence? By framing these questions in the context of death and murder, Sex/Crime offers an opportunity to look at, and into, queer themes from the darker end of the spectrum.

When ‘B’ reacts aggressively to the news that this interaction will simply be a role play, and that he won’t actually get to die in the end, and experience the ultimate ecstasy, what may we derive from it? Is there a connection here with larger themes of self-destruction and low self-regard which are often mixed up with hedonism in the gay male experience? Is the characters’ acting out of a long life together, complete with jokes of monogamy and open-relationships, which the audience acknowledged through laughter, another example of the age-old question of what it means to be in a relationship outside of heteronormative roles, expectations, and validations?

These are some of the questions I am left with after Sex/Crime. I wouldn’t say that I was able to identify with the characters’ motivations or journeys, or that I was particularly moved by their pathos, but since I have all these questions, there is definitely something relevant about this play and the way it speaks to the commodification and fetishisation of our lives.

On at The Glory (London) until the 28th April. BOOK NOW

© Ryan 2018

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 14.27.57

Film Review: Love, Simon

Love, Simon
Dir: Greg Berlanti
Written by: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker

5*

This film is without a doubt, the coming-out story for 2018.  NFT1 at The BFI was absolutely packed out for this screening on a Monday afternoon.  Knowing little about Love, Simon beforehand, I hoped that the full auditorium was a sign of good things to come, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The LGBT+ kids of my generation missed out on seeing themselves on screen, or if they did it was usually as a stereotype or trope and certainly never as a protagonist. We are now at the point where this generation of teenagers finally have access to a range of LGBT+ characters and narratives on stage and screen, and I’m thrilled that movies like Love, Simon will be available to them.  It hits all the markers of American teen movies that my generation grew up with, but is highly contemporary and relevant for now, with a soft nod to the landscape of American politics in 2018.

Seventeen year old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has a normal and relatively happy life, he gets on with his family, does well at school and has the best friends someone could ask for, however he’s hiding a huge secret from everyone – he’s gay. And when someone threatens to leak his secret to the entire school he goes to all and any lengths to stop that from happening. The refreshing thing about this movie is that the issues faced by Simon are not the ones usually conflated with coming-out stories.  I despise coming-out stories in which we see a character face homophobic abuse or familial rejection or some other horrible situation for a relentless hour or two, or ones where the coming-out really is the crux of the narrative and it remains as flimsy as that.  Love, Simon is none of that – it’s a far deeper exploration, more robust and 3D than previous coming-out narratives I’ve encountered, and remained engaging throughout.

It’s a fun movie, with hugely likeable characters; at which point I give a huge shout out to Jennifer Garner – the feminist, kind-hearted and warm mum.  Another mention must go to Natasha Rothwell, who had me in stitches more than a couple of times as the over-dramatic and highly strung drama teacher, Ms Albright. The characters all had depth to them, which meant the ‘baddie’ wasn’t just bad, the parents weren’t perfect, but were trying and the teachers were both typical teachers and human at the same time.  I felt that all of the characters developed throughout, in a way that was satisfying to watch.

It was a movie that kept me guessing, threw me off course, made me laugh, cry and cheer. I wish I could have seen this movie as a teenager, but how however old you are now and whatever your sexual orientation – go and see this, it’s just lovely.

Love, Simon is showing in mainstream cinemas across London and the UK from early April.

© Amie Taylor 2018

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 09.01.45.png