Review: First Time

Waterside (Manchester)
This production has now closed.

Nathaniel can’t forget his first time. He’s had it playing on repeat for the last fifteen years.

First Time is HIV+queer artist and activist, Nathanial Hall’s, one man show about attempting to stay positive in a negative world. Nathaniel recalls his first time having sex at the age of sixteen, the shock of being diagnosed with HIV two weeks after his 17th birthday and his ongoing journey.

The play is all about breaking the stigma surrounding HIV – and it’s an honest and emotional play that both explains his experience and expels a lot of the myths surrounding the virus (the best of which were in a fun audience game).

The piece begins with the aftermath of a party – and Nathaniel reading listacals about ancient condoms – and it’s this sense of humour that’s retained throughout the play in a tongue-in-cheek way. He takes the audience to his prom (with a whole load of early-naughties references), shows how he imagines his life could be if he wasn’t gay (a lot of babies); replicates throwing up using cans of silly string; scoffing pills out of a cereal bowl. All of this humour has a dark underbelly – it makes the audience laugh but also reminds them of the seriousness of what Nathaniel has faced over the last fourteen years and the challenging nature of his diagnosis.

Nathaniel’s diagnosis and ongoing survival are a really important part of the play, and in particular it’s celebration of the NHS was well worth considering – how fortunate we are to have the best healthcare service in the world with such high level of care and support. The play also explores Nathaniel’s journey from initial diagnosis through to the management of the virus: how he has learnt to battle and tell his story, how he shared the news with his parents and the sense of hope he feels for the fact that he has survived.

Watching the play on world AIDS day made it even more poignant, and a candlelit vigil added a moment for reflection and remembrance. When the show finished, I spent some time reading comments from the audience – and it was touching to see how many people had found comfort in the story, and one that stuck with me in particular was the comment, ‘I no longer feel ashamed’. First Time is the epitome of why it’s so important that these stories are told, that stigmas are erased and change is put into place.

© Megan Holland 2018

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Review: Drip

By Tom Wells
On at The Bush Theatre (London) Until 22nd Dec 2018

‘Gig Theatre’ feels like it’s a relatively new concept, mixing the arts of theatrical storytelling with live music ‘gigs’, but in reality, this blurring of the lines of musical and gig can go back to pieces like John Cameron Mitchell’s seminal Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Although bands and music artists have been mixing visuals and concepts to their shows for years, there seems to be more a move to storytelling and companies like Hull based Middle Child are starting carve out niches in creating new works in this hybrid world. It is hard to place Tom Wells’ new one man play ‘Drip’, although sold a ‘one man musical comedy’ it feels like it dives more into the world of gig theatre. Told through Liam, a 15 year old boy, it places the audience in the role of year 11 schoolchildren and makes for a much more live and immersive event than perhaps a more typical musical. This is not a criticism by any means, it is this active audience role that makes the character come alive and much like Cameron Mitchell’s leading lady, Hedwig, it allows the vulnerability of the character much more space to come out. Liam, played here flawlessly by Andrew Finnigan, tells us about his friend Caz, ‘best friend Caz’ and their journey to create a winning entry for the annual Project Prize at school, which you as an audience are attending. Wells’ writing is so beautifully real and awkward, a style that he has become so well known for in his previous works like My, as a Penguin and Kitchen Sink and whilst dipping his foot into using music in his most recent Broken Biscuits, this feels like a much bigger jump into the form. Along with Finnigan’s subtle and charming performance, the script offers a real warmth and humour without losing the delicate reality of a 15 year old standing in front of a hall full of his peers. What I love about Wells’ work, perhaps more than anything is his constant use of gay or queer characters without bullies and tragedy in tow, which may sound like a silly comment but think about the last time you saw a gay character in theatre that wasn’t dealing with ‘issues’ linked directly to his or her sexuality like coming out, or HIV or prejudice. It is so wonderful to see such a well rounded gay character who is not only ‘proper out’ and comfortable with themselves but also free from harassment.

With music by Matthew Robbins, the songs have a wonderfully amateurish and awkward feel, however it does sometimes feel a little repetitive and although, trying to work with the reality of an amateur songwriting character, I sometimes craved something a little more complex or varied, especially as most kids these days know how to use computer software to compose and record.

Directed by Jane Fallowfield, the piece feels live and in the moment for the most, but every now and again feels a little too well rehearsed considering the context and the ending lacks the stakes needed to really make us believe Liam was to perform his routine (in swim shorts) to a room full of 15 year olds. However, there are fantastic moments of audience interaction, inviting us to wear blue ponchos to become the swimming pool and blow bubbles to represent being under water not to mention the person in charge of ringing a chime lovingly every time we are told about ‘Josh’.

This a small story about an average character in an average world but with Wells’s writing and Finnigan’s performance the story is completely heart warming and wonderfully uplifting.

Book Now

© Harry Richards 2018

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Review: The Maids

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

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


Film Review: 1985

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


Review: Denim: The Reunion Tour

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:

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