Film Review: The Book of Gabrielle

The Book of Gabrielle (2016)
Written and Directed by Lisa Gornick

In The Book of Gabrielle we follow Gabrielle (Lisa Gornick) as she embarks on completing her illustrated guide to sex, part memoir, part instruction manual, where she befriends Saul (Allan Corduner), an established author known for his erotic literature. As Gabrielle delves into her book and herself her relationship with her partner Olivia (Anna Koval) and Saul is questioned and tested as he figures out what makes her tick.

This film is a warm and intimate portrayal of Gabrielle’s sexual life, both with herself and others. It is charted beautifully through long takes of Gabrielle live drawing her manual, that both give a tone for the story and visual feast for the eyes. Lisa Gornick excels at giving us a relatable down to earth character of someone who enjoys a sexual life, but is also very aware and sometimes challenged by it. This is accentuated by the long lingering shots on Gabrielle during which allow us to really sit inside her journey whilst spending time with others. Allan Cauldner also gives a charming and softly seductive Saul who you can feel falling for, whilst Anna Koval’s Olivia gives us a sweet partner who you don’t want to see hurt. This effective trio of characters pulls the audience back and forth whilst Gabrielle figures her book out.

Whilst this movie keeps you engaged thanks to the pleasingly presented at times I felt the stakes were not high enough. Whilst in the story Gabrielle’s relationships are at risk, Olivia as Gabrielle’s long-term partner from the start never feels like someone that is a massive part of her life and so I didn’t worry about losing her. And on the flip side Saul didn’t feel as forbidden a fruit as he could have been. Whilst the exploration of self is very filling Gabrielle’s other relationships couldn’t have been better fleshed out to give us more to care for.

I applaud this film for a very normative portrayal of both sexual life and lesbian relationships. I feel there is a tendency in most films for lesbian romances or erotic topics to either be coming-of-age stories, or hyper-erotic. This was done through natural characters and dialogue rather than soft-core porn which made it feel a lot more identifiable.

The Book of Gabrielle Is a tender, personal examination of one woman’s sex life as she grows older, looking at how her relationships and herself affect it. It feels like having a chat with a friend and looking through the keyhole of another person’s life, giving the comforting idea that difficulty it what is always advertised as perfect and romantic isn’t wrong.

Buy Now

© Dan Ramsden – 2018 – @DanielRamsdenFL

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Interview: Katherine McMahon

Next week Katherine McMahon will be at The Camden People’s Theatre with her spoken word, theatre show Fat Kid Running, in which she explores fat activism and exercise through the lens of personal experience. LGBTQ Arts’ Amie Taylor interviewed her to find out a little more about this piece.

AT: Tell us a little bit about what audiences can expect and what it’s about…

KM: It’s a spoken word, theatre show so it inhabits that cross over between a play and a big, epic poem.  It’s about my relationship to exercise and my body as a fat person and a woman. It’s very much from the point of view of the kid that was always skiving PE and resented being made to do any kind of exercise.  It’s about the way I reclaimed movement over many years. And the reason I started writing it was because once I’d worked out how to start doing movement for myself and not for any external reason, like thinking I should be thinner or thinking I should for some moral reason,  I discovered that I actually really loved moving my body, as I think a lot of people do.  I was really angry that it had been taken from me for all of those years, and that I was made to feel like it was something I couldn’t do – that it was this complicated thing that I felt I should be doing, so rebelled against it by not doing it. It was something I wrote that would hopefully would help other people to reclaim that.  So it’s coming from a feminist and fat activist position, I would say it’s about radical body love.

AT: What’s your background in theatre and spoken word?

KM: I’ve been a poet since I can remember, and I started to take it seriously when I discovered the spoken word scene in Edinburgh about 7 or 8 years ago, so I built up my performance poetry practice and a spoken word theatre show felt like a really great next step, to challenge myself.  This piece came around because I was writing a lot of things around this topic, and there was far more than would fit in one poem, so it was asking to be written as a long narrative which is great as  that gives me the opportunity to really explore it.

AT: How have you found making a solo work and what have the challenges been?

KM: I’m using to working on stage on my own, but doing a whole show on my own is a whole other kettle of fish. I think it was one of the scariest things I’d ever done when I first did it, when it debuted back in May in Edinburgh.  It was also one of the most vulnerable things I’ve done because I wrote it and I perform it – it felt like metaphorically stripping naked on stage in front of everyone I know.  But the rewards of that are also great, because once I’d done it and I got an amazing response, it was the best feeling in the world. So making solo work is really hard, but I get to say what I need to say.

AT: You mentioned being an activist, can you talk a bit around your activism and how it influences the work you make, and vice versa?

KM: I used to do a lot more straight up activist work, when I was a student the first time around, I helped to run my university feminist society amongst other things.  As I’ve got older I’ve seen the potential of, particularly something like spoken word, which is very accessible, very inclusive you’d hope, to be a force for change in the world.  And for me it was an important thing to realise – that my activism could be my art. And now I also really enjoy things that create the cross over, for examine the BP or not BP campaign – which is a campaign against the sponsorship of cultural institutions by oil companies – I think their work is really amazing.

AT: And who is this show for?  Did you have a specific audience in mind when making it?

KM: It sounds cheesy, but anyone with a body – so everyone.  I think our cultural relationship with our bodies is a big mess, and I think particularly for women and particularly for fat people, and then other people who I don’t want to speak for because I don’t have the experiences they have, but there’s obviously a lot of intersections with different kinds of bodies.  I think it’s really important to talk about that stuff and reclaim our bodies for ourselves.

Fat Kid Running: Thursday 15th March, 7.15pm at Camden People’s Theatre.

Book now.

Fat Kid Running 1

Review: Hearty

NOW Festival – The Yard

Emma Frankland’s Hearty is the culmination of the None of Us Yet a Robot Project, which has taken place over a period of 6 years, and which originated as a response to Emma’s transition and the politics around it. Originally an exploration into hormone treatment and similarities with cisgender women who had experienced menopause, the focus of this piece then expanded to include the experiences of trans women in Brazil and Indonesia, as a result of working in those countries for a couple of years.
Hearty set out to challenge complacency amongst white, heteronormative trans people which tend to dictate how the experience of trans people should be like, as well as to announce her own refusal to continue asking for approval. Using a variety of media and tools to explore these themes and deliver her message, I must say that at times, it felt like the production in its various forms – music, lights, sound, set, costume – became too overwhelming and ended up overshadowing the humanity of her journey.
It was difficult to connect through what seemed like a few technical glitches, as well as some costume difficulties, as it took the attention away from the narrative unfolding in front of us, to the more technical aspects of the show. I remember thinking and feeling a few times, that even though I could hear the words being spoken, I couldn’t really hear the message. It wasn’t until the final moments when Emma sang in acapella that I was able to relate to parts of her being, to the piece, and to what she was sharing with us. I wished that Hearty had had more moments like that, of the heart. It perhaps says something about the trans experience in itself, that so much of the outside can overshadow the inside.
It was helpful and welcoming to hear from Emma herself at the end of the performance, as she shared that this was indeed part of a wider project and that this performance was still a work in progress and evolving. It would be very exciting to witness the evolution of this piece and project.
©RCV 2018
Hearty has now closed, but follow @ELBFrankland on Twitter for details of future work.

Review: Really Want to Hurt Me

At Old Red Lion (London)

February is LGBT History Month, when we celebrate diversity whilst remembering the hardship of the past. Many people in the community struggled during their formative years, in times without social media and instant internet access as a support system to let them know they weren’t alone. These early, teenage, angst-riddled emotions are perfectly encapsulated in Ben SantaMaria’s play Really Want to Hurt Me at the Old Red Lion

The piece begins right in the heart of the story of a young man, with his bully-filled life and constant confusion about who he is. Throughout the next 80 minutes we are taken on a journey covering the next three years; from highlights and comic moments to some of the darkest depths of his psyche. Every moment is entwined beautifully by the eighties backing track that becomes his strength, solace and salvation. Music reflecting his personality from his pop-picking days of Culture Club and Eurythmics, moving into his alternative later teens, with more moody, indie bands like The Smiths and Cocteau Twins.

Refreshingly, although the AIDS crisis of the 80’s in mentioned – as it should be – the play doesn’t dwell too much on this and remains true to the world of the teenage boy and his personal understanding of the world around him.

A charming Ryan Price holds the audience through every turn and is performed with earnest and feeling, delivering tender moments and witty quips expertly. Directed by writer SantaMaria he uses the space with skill as he takes us down the road of his experience, sometimes including episodes of the past and sometimes pushes to hopes of the future.

The play is gentle and, although it flips nicely from funny moments to heart-wrenching, the dynamic isn’t what you could necessarily call a roller coaster ride. There are no big reveals or shocks, the story is one that many of us may have felt and indeed I would think that most of us can relate to at least one moment in the piece.

Overall this play is pure honesty – plain and simple. It is packed to the brim with nostalgia and memories that will twang on your heart-strings.

This show has now closed, but follow @bensantamaria over on Twitter for details of developments of this piece.

Review: © PB 2018

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Review: The Vagina Dialogues

Vault Festival

The flyer for “The Vagina Dialogues” said it was “a feminist exploration of judgment in contemporary society, drawn from personal experiences” which I was pretty excited about. And at a well-paced 60 minutes, it did just that with a lot of sass, spark and audacity along the way. It starts with the ensemble cast (The Volvas) clad in sunglasses and what looked like Bridesmaid dresses performing the first of several original songs. The songs alone were dynamic and catchy (there is a “round” performed later in the show and I LOVE a “round”) and work well to create lightness when some of the storytelling can become quite dark and confronting.

The story is episodic but we return to the characters and scenarios; There are the two sisters daring to reveal a horrible truth from the past, the woman who daydreams about getting out of her suffocating job and the incredible difficulty of learning how to not say sorry and the young woman who finds herself pregnant and completely afraid, but utterly supported by her friend. There is a real feeling of sisterhood throughout the show be that through the exuberance and synchronicity of performance of the cast as well as the in the stories shared. These are often very personal experiences but they are familiar to a lot of us.

One of the aspects my friend and I discussed after leaving the show was the nudity. At one point during the show, the performers show their breasts and at first when it happened I wasn’t sure where it was going to go or if it needed to happen. I just feel sometimes any nudity on stage has the potential to be jarring. It was not the case in “The Vagina Dialogues” whereby the cast did an amazing dance to the old electro song “Popcorn” and it was so silly and bloody joyful. Which sounds a bit mad and it kind of was, but that was what made it so great. Brave and bonkers is what you want in a performance. Well, it’s what I want in my theatre anyway.

There are also some quite dark and confronting moments; in particularly I found a spoken word section where the two sisters speak each other’s words, a powerful piece of performance.

I thought this was an assured and sincere show with the right balance of humour and seriousness throughout. I would recommend this show to those with open ears and an open mind. I look forward to see what else “The Volvas” come up with as I think they are one (well a group!) to watch.

This show has now closed at Vault Festival, but follow @TheVolvas for future performances.

© Sarah Browne 2018

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Review: Outspoken


Manchester Central Library – as part of Queer Contact

Outspoken, part of Queer Contact, is a prose, poetry and spoken word evening with an all-female lineup. Hosted by Afshan D’souza-Lodhi, the evening was upbeat and positive from the beginning, with a crowd that was more than happy to celebrate the voices of talented writers in Manchester Central Library.

The mixture of writers throughout the evening – from recognised performers such as Seni Seneviratne, Jackie Hagan, Mandla Rae and Louise Wallwein, alongside brand new voices who were fresh off the back of winning Superbia’s Manchester Chapbook project – gave an exciting vibrancy to the event. The audience were given the opportunity to be taken on the journeys of the writers and hear a real mixture of styles and storytelling. Over the course of the evening we were transported into poems about growing up in care, working class Liverpool, into the mindset of the colour red – and even into a poem about Beauty and The Beast.

A particularly strong performance came from Jackie Hagan, who spoke so eloquently about the working class – with stand up and poetry that packed a punch through humour and hard-hitting reality. Everything that she said felt real and she lit up the stage with her presence. Alongside this, hearing new writing from the winners of Suberbia’s chapbook competition showed the new writing Manchester has to offer – and it will be so exciting to see where these new voices end up.

There’s nothing as encouraging as hearing diverse voices – they teach you so much, open your eyes in different ways and improve the way that you respond to the world around you. The stories were beautiful – and I went away feeling inspired.

This performance has now closed.

© M Holland 2018

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Review: The Newspaper Boy

53Two, Manchester (Supported by Queer Contact)

The Newspaper Boy, part of Queer Contact, tells the story of Christian Dibmore, a working-class 15 year old starring as the newest child-star in the nation’s favourite soap. The story follows the burden of his success, his involvement with drugs and his gradual coming out – all set in the nostalgic 90s Manchester. The play is honest, and grabs you from the very beginning.

The Newspaper Boy is inherently Mancunian, and evokes nostalgia from the get go. Jean (Karen Henthorn), Christian’s Nan, is a character that reminded me of my own Grandma, the surroundings of 90s Moston completely convincing. Throughout, the setting of the play is so familiar that you can’t help but feel right at home – and the humour feels like being reintroduced to an old friend.

The coming out story of the play, and the difficulties that Christian faces as he is splashed across the tabloids for having a relationship with an older man, undercuts the humour of the play and is a reminder of the challenges the LGBTQ community was facing just twenty five years ago. A gentle nod to the death of Freddie Mercury rooted the play, reminding us of the stories that many LGBTQ people carry with them, and how important it is for these stories to be shared in order to encourage hope and give people strength.

Alongside the history of the play, the characters were highly convincing, with particularly good performances from Christian (Daniel Maley), who brought the character to life (helped by a traditional ‘curtains’ 90s hair do!). The interlinking set was interesting and transported the viewers to as many locations as possible within a restricted space. intricacies of Christian’s life – his small childhood bedroom, claustrophobic living room, before being transported onto the set of a soap, or into a club.

The play did run a little long, and the second half lacked in pace, with a few scenes that over ran and didn’t keep the rhythm of the drama. However, as an audience member I couldn’t help but feel honoured to be able to share this story and be transported back in time.

You can catch The Newspaper Boy at 53Two until Saturday 24th February – and it’s certainly worth a watch. Book Now.

Review © M. Holland 2018

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Image © Duncan Elliot