Review: Taylor Mac

Lift Festival, The Barbican

I have always been quite jealous of people who can knit, and vaguely fascinated. And so – random as it seemed – I was pleasantly intrigued when I walked into the Barbican on Thursday 28 June for Taylor Mac’s show, to find a knitting circle plonked in front of the on-stage orchestra. A definite, mysterious tease for the audience; the randomness of which sets precedent for the night – succinctly named A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: A First Act.

I have always been a fan of drag in all its forms but I’ve never before had the pleasure of seeing one of Taylor Mac’s shows until now and what a show?! Extravaganza doesn’t quite cut it. Spectacle doesn’t quite manage expectation of this phenomenal piece of glitzy, interactive, glamour-f*ck, gender-bending explosion.

We are told by Mac (whose preferred pronoun according to Wikipedia is judy), that the “extrava-specta-xplo-show” – as I will call it – is part of a 24-hour piece, which takes us on a journey through popular music, from the time of the countries inception in 1764 right through to the modern day. Mack effortlessly and beautifully sings with dulcet tones, from ancient ballads to drunken pub-tunes, telling stories, having political rants and getting the audience involved with every toss and turn of the whirlwind piece.

Judy is accompanied by local performance artists the Dandy Minions serving us everything from fishy drag, to look-queens, to drag kings, to genderf*ck, to bio-queens and more. Also playing a part are the London Gay Men’s Chorus and Friends. This community linking makes the performance personal to us and makes us feel like nobody has ever seen this particular show in this particular way – a special ingredient which also promotes the fantastic work of local artists. A nice touch!

The costumes were out there and extravagant, although sometimes it felt that, although the creative concept was clever, the execution slightly missed the mark. Lighting was beautiful and brought us into the fantastic worlds, which Taylor and musical director Matt Ray create through their composition and performance.

If there is anything to criticise at all it would be that I wanted more. At the end of the three hours I wanted to find out how judy was going to continue through the decades. It would have been great to see what judy did with more modern music – we only reached the 1780s. Perhaps a three-hour show which was a condensed version of the full-length extrava-specta-xplo-show, rather than just the beginning.

Taylor Mac I salute you and tip my flat cap in your direction for producing one of the most unforgettable shows I think I will encounter. As for the knitting circle and why they were there? I’m still not sure, but I loved it!

©Paul Bloomfield 2018

This production has now closed, but visit Taylor Mac’s website for upcoming shows and more info.

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Interview: Rebecca Kenny

Frieda Love is the brainchild of artist and activist Rebecca Kenny. The show Frieda Loves Ya has been in development for a couple of years and last performed at Vault Festival in 2017.  This year Kenny heads for the Fringe up in Edinburgh to make her debut with Frieda.

A political melange of burlesque, cabaret, silly songs and clowning; we meet Frieda Love who owns a delicatessen and has given up on love, which is a shame because her whole delicatessen is dedicated to it. Things get shaken up a little when she gets given a mystical cake called Mervin who tells her there’s a dark force in the love universe and the only person who can save it is her.

To find out if Frieda manages to save the universe and find love again book to see the show at The Underbelly, Bristo Square during the festival, and to find out more, read on!

AT: Hi Rebecca, thanks for speaking to LGBTQ Arts today, to start with, tell us a bit about the show…

RK: Frieda Love is my cabaret alter ego and she’s a clown. I like to describe it as a show that gives you a hug.  It’s about bringing people together in ways where they’re differently loved, it’s very silly, it’s burlesque and cabaret and circus and it’s about finding that common ground between people with all their differences, through positive feelings.

AT: And why do you feel this piece is particularly relevant for now?

RK: The world is seeing a lot of dark times at the moment, we’re living in a very anxious place and the way politics are working are using a lot of negative feelings, hatred is becoming a tool for power, to divide people and intolerance is on the rise.   For me when making Frieda in to a show I spent a lot of time thinking about these feelings that are given out daily; they’re very easy to give, but very hard to take back.  So how do we rescind it?  And the only way I can see that we fight against it is through opposing feelings.   Giving people feelings of safety and love and joy. What we need is some lightness.  Maybe silliness and love are political because through them we learn to see each other and play again.

AT: And finally what kind of evening will people have if they come to see Frieda Loves Ya?

It will be entirely bonkers. There’s an element of classic burlesque, I call it guerrilla burlesque because it’s almost like a protest, it’s unexpected.  Hopefully they’ll leave feeling really great, with a little riot of joy in their pocket, and they can pay it forward if they want to.

Venue: Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh
Time: 22.25

£11/10 (conc)

1st – 27th August (no show 13th)
Captioned performance 16th August
Relaxed performances 14th & 23rd August

Book Now



Review: GUY: A New Musical

By Leo and Hyde
The Bunker (London) until 7th July 2018

New musical GUY explores identity, the complexity of friendships, self-esteem and finding love. Although the plot in Leo and Hyde’s production could benefit from further development along with some of the characters relationships GUY is a contemporary and gender fresh show. Some excellent vocal performances are featured – along with pleasant anti clichés – as we follow Guy (Brendan Matthews), an insecure 20 something graphic designer & video game enthusiast on his journey for love. All in a dating app driven world that focuses heavily on appearances and one-night stands.

The cast offered up honest performances. The acting style focussed on mostly naturalistic responses and true to life actions, something that is often lost in musical theatre to a favoured presentational style. Matthews as the lead is a steady showman, he is coyly humorous and convincingly insecure and desperate. Vocally he is bold and comfortable in his range. Steve Banks was engaging, funny and grounded as best friend Tyler and is a performer who trusts and follows his instincts. Sean Miley-Moore as liberating Aziz is a playful and free performer, he is beautifully gender non-binary in his aesthetic and had several stand out vocal moments, particularly in Supression Effect. He has a clear tone and executed some impressive 90s style runs.

There was a juvenile layer to some of the theatrical aspects of the production. In moments the physical action felt very staged. The miming of props, moving blocks to create new scenes, repetitive and cold transitions didn’t help the cause. The plot focussed too heavily on dating apps – this felt limiting to the queer experience. Towards the end the story went very wayward and needed some clarifying and directorial navigation as the conflict – which should have come as a catalyst of change – became a messy and unclear spectacle. These elements could however be easily ironed out with further creative development.

Some of the stronger elements of the show were director Sam Ward’s choices against the pleather of gay clichés in British theatre that have a banal effect on productions. We saw this predominantly in the portrayal of gay men in a musical – and in particular one focusing so heavily on queer culture – that were not just a constant flow of overly camp caricatures. We were given different body types, characteristics, layers of masculinity and femininity and external sexual expression. Although I would have liked to see this pushed even further, diverse queer casts like this will help to break down gender constraints and gay stereotypes.

GUY accurately explores the struggle of finding love and then finding the confidence to know that you are worthy of receiving it. It is a humorous musical about real people with a couple of catchy songs and four bold performers all with great vocal ability. Despite a few missed creative opportunities and development needed the show most importantly sets strong standards for the future of gay representation in theatre.

© Bj McNeill 2018

This show is running until the 7th July at The Bunker Theatre.  Book now.


Movie Review: 50 Years Legal

Released by Peccadillo Pictures

‘Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it’; a saying inspired by a quote by George Santanyana, is one I have always remembered from my school days.  However, like most LGBTQ+ people, I don’t remember being told anything of my own unique heritage, short of being told that we were murdered during the holocaust, and that was only a passing mention.  At the recent ‘Queer & Now’ exhibition at the Tate Gallery, an entire hall full of LGBTQ+ people were asked if they remember hearing anything of their heritage at school, and not one person put their hand up.

These are reasons why films such as ’50 Years Legal’ are vital records of the queer experience that are important to the whole of society, not just the rainbow corner of it.  Many LGBTQ+ people came away from this film feeling revitalised, vindicated and invigorated to go out and carry on the fight.  Others felt angry that some voices, such as bi voices, were omitted.  This is a question responded to by the film-maker, Simon Napier-Bell, in an interview that was recorded upon the film’s release.  Some of his interpretations of bi identities left me perplexed, and perhaps that speaks something of how much further we have to go.  Formerly a music manager, with a track record including ‘The Yardbirds’, ’T Rex’, ‘WHAM!’ and George Michael, Napier-Bell and his work have been pivotal to so much of recent popular (often very queer) culture.

He says himself that he wasn’t much of a campaigner in the past, which was partly why he felt the desire to do something now, and leave this record for people to pore over.  So hopefully, now and in the future, people can all try to understand a little bit more through the stories of the brave people who were there and did what they did.

Many well-known and well-loved celebrities share their stories, reminiscences and in some cases, something akin to a call-to-arms during the very pleasant 1hr and 15minutes that I spent in their company.  From Stephen K. Amos’ avuncular tales that carry important truths, to Stephanie Hirst’s cry of ‘it was tits or death!’ when regarding her transition, we get a better idea of where we came from, and where we need (and desire) to go.  Hearing the steadfast voice of veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell is surely enough to leave most people feeling a bit more inspired than they were before.  What was also special to me was the surprisingly large amount of stock footage of my queer forebears; dancing, talking, surviving, living in such brave defiance.  Some of their faces have been etched onto my memory after only a few seconds of screen time…I can’t help wondering what happened to them all.

Our story has mostly been forced into the shadows, the last 50 years of openness was the beginning of something else more glorious and proud.  This film and it’s message will help us and our allies stay in the full glare of the sun;  I cannot wait to see what we do, and I cannot wait to hear the future stories from all corners of our wonderful LGBTQ+ community.

It still stands as an excellent record of amazing, life-changing achievements, though I could have done with more bi and pan people and more people from a BAME background.  For anyone who wants to know their heritage, for anyone who wants to understand more, ’50 Years Legal’ is an excellent start to the process.

Courage mon braves!

More info here.

Review © Jezza Donovan 2018

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Movie Review: BOYS ON FILM 18: Heroes 

Peccadillo Pictures presents its eighteenth installment in its Boys on Film series, this time subtitled Heroes. Following on from their previous title Love is a Drug, the collection of 10 films looks to explore tales recounting the lives of everyday heroes with no special powers except striving for their own identities and fighting for the right for us all to be ourselves. Since the first Boys on Film collection in 2009, Peccadillo have continued to bring together an eclectic mix of short films from emerging filmmakers exploring gay issues and even after eighteen releases the quality remains higher than ever.

The first in the series is Daniel, starring Poldark’s Henry Garrett, where a London male escort is invited to his best friend’s house for dinner to meet her new partner. Directed by Dean Loxton, this film really has a delicate feel to it, where the camera moves around with such ease, placing you in the room with Daniel the whole time. It never feels sordid or wrong, but instead just offers an insight into a world where Daniel seems comfy and happy. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere and nothing is resolved but there is a subtlety about the film, posing questions rather than answers that makes a great opener for the collection. This is followed by a bitter sweet drama about a young guy escorting his ex to a HIV test. This Dutch film from director Niels Bourgonje manages to beautifully capture the intense claustrophobia and tension of waiting for test results but manages to avoid any judgment on unsafe sex. The focus is instead on the tragedy of the broken relationship.

Perhaps the most memorable of the collection is Half a Life, a highly stylised animation from Tamara Shogaolu. The piece accompanies the interview of a gay activist who narrates his way through the unrest in Egypt over the past few years, focussing on the LGBTQ+ struggles that continue to this day. A brutal and heart wrenching story, juxtaposed by vivid animation, flowing through various styles as it portrays violent and emotive acts. The film, not only manages to be stunning in its design but emotionally stunning as the fight for human rights is made so honestly explicit.

A big shift for the series, is that the two longest pieces in the collection both are documentaries. Sam Ashby’s The Colour of his Hair uses a mix of drama and documentary to explore the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and Alejandro Medina’s AIDS: Doctors and Nurses tell their stories interviews medical professionals about their time working at the height of the AIDS crisis. Whilst these titles have interesting things to say, they lack the cinematography and craft of the more fully formed documentaries out there such as We Were Here, which has become a benchmark in documentary filmmaking about the AIDS crisis. That said, it is great to hear British voices discuss such an important time in gay history.

The Boys on Film series continues to be an important playground where not only emerging talent can develop their craft but also important issues of sexuality, self-acceptance and homophobia can be explored and presented in short, dymanic and exciting pieces of cinema. With the success of the first major studio release centering on a gay character this year, there may come a time when this series is no longer needed to explore gay voices, but until then, let the platform continue to grow and grow.

© Dan Phillips 2018

More info here

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Review: Celebration, Florida

By Greg Wohead
The Soho Theatre
Let me start by saying that I found this show very exciting! The premise alone was enough to make me go: YES! Maybe I’m a geek, I don’t know. But Celebration, Florida by Greg Wohead is an unusual and one-of-a-kind performance with an intention to reach out for connection with other people. That reaching out, as in life, requires vulnerability, stepping into the unknown, in a way that feels both thrilling and confusing.
Celebration, Florida is both the title of the show and a real location in the state of Florida, USA. A planned community, originally developed by the Walt Disney Company, near Disney, it features all the quaint and nostalgic components of Americana. The houses are modelled on different architectural styles from across the country, and street shops contain all your American brands. But because of the climate in that state, there is no autumn foliage, and so every October, the transition into that season is faked by having leaf-shaped confetti thrown all over the town. A mix of very real excitement, fun, sadness, and inauthenticity. This mix of having something standing in for something else, inspired the performance.
In itself, the show contains a clear narrative, carefully constructed around different versions of a very famous song – which I won’t name, so I don’t spoil the fun and surprise – and it includes several elements of performance: monologues, dance, physical theatre, song, drama, comedy.
The really exciting thing, however, is the premise: two performers stand in for Greg Wohead. They have never met each other, are completely unrehearsed, and have no idea what the show is about. They walk on stage, each grabbing a set of headphones previously placed on the floor, and promptly start receiving instructions, whose nature the audience has no clue about. You see the performers’ facial expressions change and switch as they receive instructions in their headphones, and you get a sense of whether they are comfortable or not with what they are about to do or say.
There was something really exciting about seeing performers engaging with something that they were being directed to do in that moment, often revealing their own selves in the process. As the programme states, “they are self-consciously themselves and someone else at the same time, constantly slipping off one and onto the other.” From performer to real person, from character to self, and back again. I spent a great evening watching Lucy McCormick and Vanessa Macaulay in this performance, but each night, there will be a different set of two performers. If I had the time, I would actually love to go see every single performance, and see how different it would be.
Go and check it out! It will be fun!

Tour dates:
Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival, Friday 13 July

Tobacco Factory, Bristol, 14-17 November

© Ryan C Valadas 2018

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)