Review: Facehugger

Written by Louis Rembges, Directed by Emily Aboud
Backstage Theatre, Catalyst Festival (ended on the 13th July)

4 stars

Matthew’s coming out went fine… Or did it? Wrapped in a suburban coming of age story is the brilliantly written Facehugger. Directed by Emily Aboud, the show takes an intelligent & individual look at the claustrophobia, fear and intimidation that society creates for the LGBTQI+ community.

“Do you ever wonder if there is a Tupperware fairy?…” In the opening domestic reflection on plastic storage containers & the imaginary beings that might control them, we meet Matthew (Douglas Clarke). Matt is a 20 something only child who appears to work as a redirector on an emergency services’ phone line.

Rembges offers a stream of consciousness and Clarke is engaging & present in his naturalistic approach to the text. The delivery felt slightly hammered at times, but overall Clarke’s character choices honour Matt’s journey.

The dialogue is sharp and fluid and we are quickly and comfortably slipped into Matt’s world by the relatability and attitude of the text. Rembges not only creates character and personality effectively, he is articulate in the images of domesticity that he paints.

We are offered conflict with Mum, outing three year old Matt in pre-school, “her lax use of the word faggot”, carrot sticks and hummus at family gatherings, and evenings watching the Bill with Dad… Or Reg, who looks like Dad anyway.

Inversely these moments of nostalgia are spliced & contrasted by confronting segments of Matt’s ominous phone conversations. Here the narrative introduces the other-worldly presence of Aliens, specifically Ridley Scott’s famous Facehugger. One of which exists in the walls of Mathews’ room. Rembges’ visceral sc-fi elements of the script are dripping in darkness, enveloping and rich.

The Alien concept firstly appears to be an abstract element of the world but as the show progresses, it reveals to be a cleverly layered metaphor for societal oppression.

The soundscape was woven into the piece seamlessly and screens depicting images of Alien and The Bill were an apt introduction to the world. However overall, creative direction wasn’t fully realized in comparison to what the writing offered. Development in the piece will come from the form. A man sitting in a chair talking to an audience for 50 minutes feels a little expired in 2019 theatre.

Facehugger might not shake the foundations of the status quo, but it also isn’t an obvious or cliché LGBTQI+ narrative full of sassy quips, drugs, sex and Madonna songs. This was truly refreshing, and brings its own progressive element to the stage. The show symbolizes the psychological challenge of existing in a homonormative world considered through a sci-fi lens.

© Bj McNeill

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Review: Yours Sincerely

The Kings Head Theatre, London
Directed by Anna Himali Howard

What happens when you accidentally steal 300 stamps from the nice elderly lady at the post office? A fantastical, fragmented hour filled with fun galore. Be ready to follow the story of an incidentally gay millennial and his quest… to send letters. With too much time and too many stamps, Will (played by Will Jackson) is a well-meaning and lovable protagonist. Through reciting letters, dancing and lip-syncing he shares his tale. Starting by sending letters to his first crush, friends and family, the letter writing soon escalates with often comedic consequences. Especially when he starts to impersonate a young child with suggestions for the new John Lewis advert. The multi-roling could be stronger from Jackson with some of the physicalities and voices being unclear; at times it was confusing which persona was talking to us. However, his conviction and playfulness as a performer was truly infectious. His comic timing, use of pause and pace made for an enigmatic storyteller. Great puns scatter the writing (credit to Will Jackson) and were supported by enjoyable visual gags. The utilization of space showed a strong vision from the director (Anna Himali Howard) and the sound design (Tom Rackman) kept the piece fresh all the way through. From strong physical transitions and object play work, the show proved to be flamboyant and entertaining. Who doesn’t love humming along to Celine Dion and tapping their toes to Kylie Minogue? But nonetheless these sections did not move the narrative along. In fact, as refreshing as it was to have a story about a gay man that didn’t limit itself to a homosexual demographic, it was a shame that the overarching story-line lacked punch, merely hinting at the powerful show that could have been.

If you are looking for an easy to watch show that doesn’t take itself too seriously then this show, Yours Sincerely, is addressed to you. Xxx

© K. Blewett 2019

Yours Sincerely heads up to the Edinburgh Fringe this August. For more details and booking info follow the link.

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Interview: Chelsea-Louise Berlin

If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to have an exhibit on display at the Saatchi, then wonder no more. We caught up with Chelsea-Louise Berlin who has been an archivist of the history of acid house and rave culture since the mid’ 80s and now holds a vast collection of flyers, badges, VIP membership passes and pop culture ephemera, a lot of which is currently featuring at the Saatchi Gallery’s Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today exhibition. LGBTQ Arts Review’s Amie Taylor loved chatting to her last week about the history of her work, her inspiration and her current exhibition.

AT: Tell us a little bit about you as an artist and how you started:

C-LB: I went to Chelsea School of Art, straight out of public school and when I left there I went in to interior design and furniture making, which was what I studied. That was fine for about a year or so, but then I got frustrated with the lack of opportunities within the company, and so I decided to move away from that and go in to making stuff. So I did some window dressing, prop making, banners for night clubs, t-shirt design; that type of thing. I did quite well out of it for a few years whilst living in squats and making ends meet, and it was during that time that I was clubbing a lot, that I started building my library, which is where the flyers came from. And my art was representative of what I was collecting in terms of popular culture. I was influenced by Warhol, Keith Haring, the whole hip-hop sprout movement and Japanese design of the time. So most of my work is very monochrome, black on white melanin, black on white spray; it doesn’t necessarily look like rave flyers, but it comes out of that DIY-rave mentality.

AT: And what do you hope people will take away from experiencing the exhibition?

C-LB: I think people of my generation, so people who were there during the second summer of love, and the years immediately after that, will probably have some euphoric memories, it will encourage a lot of reminiscing, they’ll think ‘oh my goodness I was there’ or ‘I did that.’ For younger people I think it will touch on what’s going on now. It will give them a link back to how everything they’ve grown up with, is linked to then.  And how the squat parties, warehouse movements, Extinction Rebellion and the activism of now, is reflected in what we were doing 30 years ago – there is no gap.

AT: How has the scene changed or shifted in those 30 years?

C-LB: It’s difficult for me, because I’m not a parent, but what I’ve seen from my friend’s kids is that it’s evolved. So after the rave scene went very commercial in the mid to late 90s, it then became the norm. Before 86/87 dance music was hardly thought of as a proper genre. Now if you turn the radio on, every other song, if not every song is dance music based. So there has been this evolving genre through the music industry, which has affected the fashion industry. All of the fashion we had back in the 80s is now really big again. Everything that goes around comes around, nothing’s new, it’s just an amalgamation of what has come before. And when we took on 60s and 70s fashion in to the mid 80s and early 90s, it seems now that the kids today are bringing the fashions of the 80s and 90s right up to date. 

AT: What originally drew you to the rave culture and what was it about it that spoke to you?

C-LB: Well I was drawn in to it because I was on the scene; by the scene I mean that I was living as an artist, I was associating with people in the music industry and art world. I was living in a squat, so I was around people who were activists. We spent most of our time in clubs; for 5 years I was clubbing nearly three or four nights a week, every single week. And the music evolved. We were all in to Hip-hop and Ramp, then we were in to Electro Funk. Then those merged together and house music and Acid House music appeared in those clubs, alongside the other music we were listening to. And we just got dragged along with it.  It was a tidal wave of new experience that you just couldn’t get enough of. 

AT: And how has it felt for you preparing for this exhibition? How long has it taken?

C-LB: It’s taken 13 days. I needed 8 weeks really –

AT: Wow, so on two levels, how has it been physically trying to get the exhibition ready, and how did it feel to see it once it was up?

C-LB: I have been suffering from huge amounts of anxiety and stress.  I wouldn’t say it was bad anxiety and stress, but I’m a perfectionist to the nth degree, everything has to be perfect, otherwise I can’t show it to anyone. It was hard, it was really hard and then when I got to the gallery on Tuesday with everything – there were four amazing technicians at the Saatchi to help me, and they took the stress away. They were so complementary about how it all looked.  It really was wonderful to see it. It’s 29 square metres of wall – I only ever got to see 3 square metres at a time, so I hadn’t seen it completed until it went up on the wall in the gallery.

AT: And how was that moment for you?

C-LB: It was overwhelming. I still haven’t really got to grips with it. When I went back this morning I was staring at it for ages, really trying to take in what I’d accomplished. For me it’s really important that other people get something from it; it’s useless to me unless it conveys something that people can take away with them. 

AT: You touched earlier on some artists who inspired you, but I wondered if there are any other inspirations, either in the art world, or beyond the art world who have inspired you to keep collecting and keep creating?

C-LB: One of my favourite artists is Keith Haring, who was a huge LGBTQ pioneer in the late 80s, immensely popular and famous. Warhol was a big influence. But Leonardo Da Vinci was one of my greatest influences, because he spanned so many different types of work; he was an artist, he was a painter, he was an inventor, a scientist, I’ve always been fascinated by someone who doesn’t categorise themselves, and although everyone thinks of him as just a painter, there was so much more to him as a human being. As an artist I don’t have a set genre of work that I do, I cross lots of different barriers and I try to create work that talks about my journey, as a trans woman firstly, but as a human being as well – that everybody can connect to. I think we spend a lot of time trying to categorise ourselves, and I like to categorise myself simply as a human being.

Chelsea-Louise’s piece is currently on display at The Saatchi Gallery, until the 29th September 2019.

SWEET HARMONY: RAVE | TODAY is an immersive retrospective exhibition devoted to presenting a revolutionary survey of rave culture through the voices and lenses of those who experienced it.” (© The Saatchi Website) – Book Now. 

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Book Review: This Queer Angel

This deeply personal book reveals to its audience a sordid piece of modern history that few know about regarding the ban on any LGBT people openly serving within the UK Armed Forces. This ban impacted the lives of countless people who were willing to serve their country with honour. Those who supported the ban felt that homosexual tendencies would lead to an erosion of discipline, a frankly outdated and almost puritan point of view in this century. Nevertheless, many younger than myself do not realise the ramifications of Section 28, brought in by Thatcher’s conservative government in 1988 (within my lifetime) the main aim of which was to ensure that local authorities (including all schools) “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” which undeniably had an effect in ensuring that this ban was not lifted sooner. In fact, many prominent members of the Conservative party spoke vehemently against the lifting of the ban

This ban was not lifted until 2000. Chambers describes the journey leading up to this momentous occasion with great clarity and understanding. While we often remember historic moments in our history, it can be far too easy to forget the work which led up it. Although we are now fortunate enough to finally be moving forward, the long and far reaching impact of such legislation still has an impact on today’s society and certainly had an impact on those enforcing laws such as these within the Armed Forces.

Having come from a Military family myself; my mother an officer within the WRNS, my father a P.O within the Royal Navy and my Stepfather, a Captain in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (interestingly the only branch of the Armed Forces which did not enforce this ruling). I have been made well aware of the very real and devastating impact this ban had, forcing humiliating and highly invasive investigations and, of course, unemployment, on the marginalised who were unfortunate enough to have come under scrutiny. Chambers’ recollections of these events proved difficult reading material and was of the ilk that made one feel rather ashamed, rather than proud of, one’s country.

Regardless, Chambers’ fight for recognition and eventual success alongside many others in overturning the ban, thanks largely to the European Court of Human Rights, sparks a sense of pride in how far we’ve come this century. It is perhaps surprising then, that she does not share this sentiment herself. There is, on occasion, sentiments of bitterness and resentment. This is understandable, considering the plight she went through, but nonetheless, she has achieved a lot in her continual fight to support those who went through similar processes to herself, and to support those who both wish to serve their country as well as live openly and should be proud of her accomplishments.

Chambers recounts her personal story with astonishing candour. Her unreservedness does see the book flit back and forth through different periods within her life, and I often had to refer back to previous chapters to understand the multiple threads that weaved through the story. Her story was at times either very formal in the explanation of military life, and then at times, very informal, discussing family and personal life alongside. Perhaps this is how Chambers felt she had to move through life, feeling at once like two very different people, one who had to hide true parts of herself, and one who didn’t. It is even possible, that there are two stories to tell here, although I am grateful that she has shared hers with us, as it is a story that needs to be told.

© NL Elliot 2019

This Queer Angel is available from Unbound. Buy Now

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Review: S.Q.U.A.D Goals

Underbelly Festival, Southbank, London
This show closed on the 5th July.

S.Q.U.A.D GOALS is a campy, queer cabaret that calls for the LGBTQ+ community and beyond to embrace its identity and community.

Cazeleon, Seann Miley Moore and Gingzilla take us through an evening exploring empowerment and queer politics, with a series of lyrically adapted songs. We get the likes of TLC, Destiny’s child and the Sugababes, delivered in a musical theatre & pop style.

The trio consistently offer powerful vocals, each with individual flare. Gingzilla is refreshingly comical both in and out of her song moments, playing masc and femme with her diverse vocal rage throughout. Cazeleon drives the ship in the group numbers and absolutely nails her solos.  Together the three smash their harmonies, there is no denying the trio sing well together.  

S.Q.U.A.D GOALS aims to call out homophobia and promote equality, which is promising, but sometimes becomes diluted in the musical theatre genre. The guts of their message is perhaps watered down in favour of theatricalities. At times the point feels presented not felt. 

A stand out moment comes from Sean Miley Moore at a piano, delivering an originally penned track. Beautifully stripped back, we hear his tremendous vocal agility and skill and importantly see his heart and vulnerability. A playful Lets have a KIKI lipsync was welcomed as was an adapted Powerpuff Girls moment complete with video animation. 

The conversation and song choices in the piece felt obvious at times and I couldn’t help but want for a more radical element to layer the piece. Particularly considering the diversity of the three queer performers and the topics they address. However the production is still entertaining and flirtatious and definitely worth a watch.  

The production comes through on its promise of being a celebration and an evening of queer cabaret. It’s overly camp, which I have to admit isn’t my preferred style of cabaret, but it doesn’t take away from the importance of the talented trio pushing the envelope with their combination of drag and gender non conformity. Three showgirls, all with pipes, addressing politics, whilst looking great – S.Q.U.A.D GOALS provides a fun and energetic show.   

For details of future productions keep up to date with Seann Miley Moore on Facebook, or Twitter.

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© Bj McNeill 2019

Review: Lovers Anonymous

Encompass Theatre Collective
The Space Arts Centre, Isle of Dogs, London

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll cringe…but it’s utterly worth it.

An affable man who introduces himself as Mike warmly greeted my friend and I as we entered the room. It is immediately clear that this isn’t going to be the type of theatre where you are passive; this is entirely immersive theatre but it is done in such a way that it truly does feel like a safe space.

The room is set up to look like a meeting in a community centre and there is tea and coffee up the back, seats set up in a circle, heart shaped balloons dotted about the place and don’t forget the biscuits. It’s done really well and beautifully creates a sort of blurry experience whereby you are watching a show but also you are an integral part of it even if you choose to remain silent. I loved that everyone was encouraged and welcomed to speak but it never felt like there was a pressure to. The audience members on the night I went were a reticent bunch (myself very much included) but I never felt like that impeded on the characters or stories being revealed. In fact it just made me in awe of how this really would be a completely different piece of theatre each night purely by the audience. How massively would the show change and what stories would not be revealed with a more vocal audience? I realise that an audience having an impact or altering the energy is always the case with any theatre but it would have such a dynamic impact on this work to the point where the importance of the audience’s role really shouldn’t be underestimated. One of the goals of Encompass Theatre Collective is that they “work to break down the boundaries between audience and performer” and “Lovers Anonymous” beautifully reflects that intention. Even if you remain silent and watching, you are very much a part of what is going on around you.

There were some lovely movement sections within the show that were just a real treat to watch and several different characters who got the chance to share their story. Whilst it felt mostly clear who the actors were (given away by the speaking to strangers) my friend and I did continue to try and work out who among the audience were part of it or not which was another layer of really observing other people and having the watcher become watched.

If there were any negatives to “Lovers Anonymous” it was that I felt it did not quite know how to end. Perhaps this is something that differs each show but it meandered a little on the night I was there and I was felt maybe there was too much concern with tying up loose ends. Shortly before the finish there was a beautiful, honest speech by one of the characters sat next to me that really caused a perceptible shift amongst everyone. It would be lovely to somehow finish on that. Regardless it was a beautiful and honest inclusion and one that I was still reflecting on much later. “Lovers Anonymous” was a really different type of theatre from what I usually see but I loved it. Highly recommend.

Review by Sarah Browne

Until 19th July @ Space Performing Arts Centre. Book Now.

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Review: Yummy

The Spiegeltent, Underbelly Festival, London

Yummy is a fun drag cabaret with touches of circus, burlesque and a lot of lip syncing.

Formed in a Melbourne Nightclub in 2015, Yummy are an Australian cabaret ensemble and have brought their enjoyable hour long show to the Southbank’s Speigeltent as part of the Underbelly Festival. The show is at its best with everyone on stage – the likeable troupe won Best Ensemble and Best Production in the Cabaret category of the Melbourne Greenroom Awards in 2017.

The evening is compered by a formidable Karen from Finance. Standout acts include an impressive hula hoop act by Hannibal Helsden set to Christina Augelera’s Genie in a Bottle, Jandruze making a very memorable sandwich, a tightly choreographed group dog walking number and raw vocals from Joni In The Moon. In fact, I’d love to have heard more live vocals – as the show relies heavily on lip syncing.

But the real stars of the show are the costumes: fabulously absurd outfits really lift the show.

The show is great fun, and perfect for a night out, though at times it did feel a little like it was on its best behaviour: I could have done with a little more spice in my sandwich.

Review © D. Farrell 2019

Yummy runs at The Underbelly Festival on London’s Southbank until 28th July. Book now.

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Image © Helen Murray