Interview: Witt ‘n Camp

Witt ‘n Camp are coming to the Soho Theatre, London on the 16th-18th May this year. With musical theatre, clowning, character-comedy and cabaret – as well as promising ‘the classiest breastfeeding burlesque number you’ll ever see’, we just had to catch up with them to find out some more.  Here they answered an LGBTQ Arts Q&A to tell you all you need to know about their show.

Tell us a little about how Witt ‘n Camp came to be…

We discovered we were both dating the same guy… Seriously. We found it genuinely hysterical and we’ve been best mates ever since. That said, we never intended to become a double act. It was all a kind of happy accident.

We’ve lived together for years and would do all kinds of bat sh*t things to crack each other up. We were always laughing (christ, our neighbours hated us). One of our ‘bits’ was fake opera singing – a ridiculous, silly thing to do – but the sport of trying to out-do one another while turning hip hop songs into opera amused us no end.

We performed a number on a variety show one night and were pleasantly stunned that other people found it funny too. After that Howitt and Campbell grew into Witt ‘n Camp.

2. What do you aim to achieve for your work?

We want our work to provide some sweet escapism from the god-damn horror show that is 2019. We love music, silliness, joy and bringing audiences together for good old belly laugh. We love exploring sexuality but also the comedy that can be found in not taking it all so seriously. As female artists, we love messing with expectations – one minute may be sexy but the next ugly as hell.

3. What can we expect if we come to see your show at The Soho Theatre?

A joyful whirlwind of musical comedy, character stand-up, theatrical cabaret and feminist burlesque. Expect to laugh.

4. What do you hope people will take away from watching? 

We want our audience to come away feeling sexy and silly and like you’ve bonded with the rest of the audience. To feel like you’ve all been part of a naughty little secret.

5. Where can we catch you over the next few months?

We’re on as part of the Pulse Festival Showcase on 31st May and working on some filming projects so follow us on social media to find out all the deets.  💋

Twitter: @wittncamp Facebook: /WittnCamp

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/witt-n-camp/

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Travel: Sanremo, Italy

Solo a Sanremo, Sanremo, Italy
Cost: ££
Date of stay: May 2018

If you want to get away for some sun, without it costing the earth, this could be the trip for you. I returned to Sanremo last year with two good friends, having briefly lived in there in 2011. Although having gone with friends this time around, I was, of course viewing this through the LGBT+ lens, looking for the places it may fall short, and frankly, it didn’t. Generally speaking Italy’s attitude to the LGBT+ community is on par with the U.Ks – when I’ve travelled there with my girlfriend we’ve found everyone friendly, accommodating and hospitable towards us. You won’t find a queer scene as such in Sanremo, in fact I haven’t located much of one at all, but for a nice quiet getaway it’s perfect.

We did this trip on a budget, taking public transport, booking simple accommodation and cooking some meals at our apartment; we had a brilliant 4 days and it was lovely to remember this hidden gem of a town on the riviera.

How to get there: The best, and cheapest way is a flight to Nice, then to take the train along the Riviera and through Monte Carlo, it’s a beautiful journey and will take you in to the heart of Sanremo, the station being situated deep within the mountain.

Where to stay: We booked Solo A Sanremo through booking.com for the 3 of us, which worked out £42 each for three nights. It was a one room studio with 2 pull out double beds; a bit of a squeeze, but we’re all good friends, so it wasn’t a problem. It would be perfect for a couple though. We barely saw the owners, which for us was perfect as we could just get on with it. There’s a hot plate, fridge and basic kitchen equipment, which we made use of, having lunches and breakfasts at home – and of course the brilliant thing about Italy is that even buying the most simple of ingredients from the supermarket can make for a delicious meal.

What to do: The great thing about Sanremo is its mild climate most of the year round. We went in May this time and it was beautiful. One of my favourite days was when we hired bikes, easily done anywhere along the beach or in the centre and cycled the 11 miles of disused railway heading out of Sanremo and along the coast. It’s an incredible cycle, mostly along the coast, but occasionally through huge tunnels in the rock. It’s flat and bar a couple of places where you have to come up on the the road, it’s traffic-free. There are several places along the way to stop off for lunch or an ice-cream and some nice beaches to stop for a rest. If cycling’s not for you, you could certainly walk some of it.

You can get a good pizza or a la carte meal in many places through the town centre. Our favourite place (in 2011 and again in 2018) was La Maona – a ten minute walk out of town along the beach. It’s a family owned and run pizzeria, with a number of wonderful things on the menu. If you’re a carnivore, like me, I recommend trying one of their meaty starters – Parma ham or the bresaola are both incredible here. It’s reasonably priced and the Dibenedetto’s who run it are very friendly.

If you can, the old town is well worth walking up to and exploring, there are some incredible views from the top, and you could get lost for hours walking through the maze of narrow streets. La Cava is a bar situated in the old town where a lot of locals drink. It was closed this time around, but used to be a firm favourite of ours.

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Three-four full days is plenty of time to see and experience all you need to in Sanremo, and can be the perfect getaway for a bit of sun.

Series Review: America In Transition

5*

“There’s something about people that are treated as disposable, buying land that is viewed as worthless and making it into something valuable”.  Greta

America in Transition describes itself as a ‘documentary series exploring relationships, community, and social issues with trans people of colour’.  It certainly is this, and it works like a dream as the whole package comes with tangible heart.

The LGBTQ+ population are known for taking something run-down and making it desirable; anything from clothes to whole neighbourhoods have been known to revel in a ‘rainbow invasion’.  Sadly though it was forgotten all too often, sometimes wilfully, that many of the people who made up the vanguard were trans people of colour.

“Every trans person deserves a life of dignity, justice and joy” states Nina, quite rightly, in the first episode of this insightful documentary series.  A trans, brown immigrant hailing from India, Nina is subjected to a period of incarceration before being given the much-needed green card that allows her to stay in the USA with her devoted partner Greta.  At this point we hear the chilling facts (cited in the film) that just 0.2% of detainees are trans, and yet 20% of sexual assault survivors in detainment camps are trans.  If this does not hammer home the plight of trans immigrants, often fleeing other countries for their very lives, then I doubt anything will.

Together they cash in every penny they have and buy a 15 acre plot that they make habitable in the most inspiring fashion.  We see undeniable evidence that necessity really is the mother of invention as ‘La Zorra’ California is born.  Also known as ‘Sisterwood’, this trans oasis in the Mojave Desert is testament to us all that having a space we can call home is truly deserved for every human being, not least if you’re trans.  Nina describes home as a place where there is a ‘lack of societal force’, and I find myself trying to high-five the screen.

In episode two, Dezjorn, a trans man with a successful career in modelling, is generous enough to share his story as he watches his Mother dying.  In her last weeks, she makes every effort to understand and come to peace with her son in what was often a fraught relationship.  The beautifully paced film takes you into another home where societal force is regarded with great suspicion, and is all the happier for it.

These documentaries are followed by a fair few more and are all worth your attention.  With seventeen years experience in education under my belt, I can vouch that these documentaries would make for excellent teaching resources.  The art of storytelling is the oldest and most profound method of effective communication that we have, and these films are at heart, excellent storytelling.

© Jezza Donovan 2019

More info and how to watch.

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Review: Cry Havoc

Review: Cry Havoc
Directed by Pamela Schermann
Runs at Park 90 until 20th April 2019

4*

Bloody and bruised, a protagonist staggers onto the stage. He struggles to smoke, transfixing the audience from the onset. Immediately we are drawn into playwright, Tom Coash’s exposing and moving world. Cry Havoc is a tapestry of intricate story-telling and truly engaging, intimate performances. A funny, heartfelt navigation between two opposing cultures and notions of dislocated identity. Mohammed El-Masri (James El-Sharaway) is central to this fight. His character must endure the dichotomy of being Muslim and homosexual inside an Egyptian totalitarian system – a true battle of faith and self. This is then further complicated by Mohammed’s partner, an English poet with a hero complex. This character, Nickolas Field (Marc Antolin), openly admits that “The language of love is hard to translate.” This line is a microcosm of the play’s heart. It alludes to questions such as: When cultures collide, how do we as individuals show, understand and value love? And at what cost?

Throughout the show, gorgeous sound design by Julian Starr masks the transitions, enabling the flow. The sound also helps subtly drive the undertones of the piece. The plot focuses on how ‘undesirable’ people are forced to wait and jump through more hurdles in order to get a visa.

The concept of being undesirable was embraced visually in Cry Havoc through the government official encouraging Nickolas, the English protagonist, to strip down so that he appears more vulnerable. Ms Nevers (played spectacularly by Karren Winchester) becomes a symbol for English bureaucracy and rule showing beautiful brutality in her treatment of him. Their first scene features amazing awkwardness and holding of tension by the actors. Truly exquisite. The detailed performances are reflected further by the costume; Ms Nevers’ black shiny shoes juxtapose against Nickolas’ quirky spotty socks and tanned shoe ensemble. In fact, the skill of the acting performances across the whole cast is consistent, accenting clear character development and journeys.

My only qualm with this piece was that at points the pacing of the writing began to lag, but the poignancy, parodying of English culture and well-crafted characters mean one can overlook that. Cry Havoc is a mesmerizing portrayal of how shame of self can manifest into violence. Hauntingly beautiful and honest, this show will leave you reflecting on the an underlying relevance to our current British climate and treatment of different versions of love.

Book now

Review © Kirsty Blewett 2019
Photo credit Lidia Crisafulli

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Review: A Family Outing – 20 Years On

4*
The Pit, Barbican Centre
Please note this performance has now closed.

Watching A Family Outing – 20 Years On was as unpredictable as any actual family outing. Part of Barbican’s 2019 season, Life Rewired, this performance is an attempt at recreating the original piece from 20 years ago.

In the original, Ursula Martinez performed alongside her mother and father in an exploration of family dynamics, and the inevitable weaving of laughter and tension, joy and sadness, impulsivity and reflection. Twenty years later, Ursula’s father is no longer with us, and her mother has been diagnosed with early stages of dementia.

The juxtaposition of elements of the original performance with current updates allows for a fascinating, and sometimes confronting, reflection on the passage of time and its effects on each of our lives. Are we able to remain the same, or do we become completely different people? Do we survive or perish? At times, the answers are black and white, and other times they are blurred. We are both the same, but different. We both survive and perish. Time is both kind and cruel. The performance is both a recreation and an update. It is both a performance and real life.

The current performance doesn’t include a narrative per se, spending some time reminiscing about the creation and experience of the original show, as well as about familial anecdotes of the past twenty years and present day. We are invited to witness heart-warming moments between mother and daughter, as well as some tensions. The content and messages are exquisitely contained through the medium of comedy, and one of the punchlines is that her mother no longer remembers her lines – sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. What is real and what is performance? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. There is a sense of being at home, of belonging, of enjoying a loved one’s company, of acknowledging serious matters, but always managing not to take anything too seriously.

To watch a performance that reflects on the family unit, its importance in an individual’s life, and even the question of what may constitute a family, allows for a powerfully warm and personable experience at the theatre, which I would highly recommend.

© Ryan Valadas 2019

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Book Review: Julian Is A Mermaid

5*
By Jessica Love

Young children should be ‘exposed’ to unconditional love and acceptance, and messages from responsible adults along those lines.   Written by Jessica Love, this gem of a book certainly lives up to the creator’s surname, and is bursting with love and acceptance on every page. 

‘Julian is a Mermaid’ is glorious picture book telling the story of Julian, a spirited child living in New York City with a Grandmother who clearly comes form the ‘Fairy Godmother’ school of Grandparenting.  

One day on the subway, Julian is inspired by women dressed as mermaids and declares a wish to also be a mermaid.  When back at Grandma’s house, Julian fashions a fabulous ensemble out of Grandma’s home furnishings.  Rather than shame Julian’s creativity and femininity, Grandma offers some sparkly accessories to complete the outfit, and insists that they both go out and take this outfit for a spin.  There they both find themselves marching with other similarly attired people, as they all celebrate their unique and beautiful selves.

Jessica Love is truly creative soul, humble, kindly, and touchingly surprised by her own success.  Inspired by the city she made home, and all the people in it, she created this book, words pictures and all, in between acting, theatre and waitressing jobs.  ‘I see stories in pictures first…’ she told me, and it shows.  The illustrations are rich, engaging and a joy to behold.

Jessica told me about the trans people she knows and loves, and there are obvious parallels between Julian’s being a mermaid and gender euphoria.  Wonderfully, this story will certainly speak volumes to trans kids and their families, but it’s appeal won’t stop there.  Children hear stories of magical transformation fairly regularly, so to see one a little closer to home is inspiring within itself.  Trans women and femmes of colour are disproportionately affected by the most horrific violence, so to see Julian so supported by Grandma honours the vital truth that we are all of equal worth and value, and that, if we let it, love will show the way.

The friends of mine who are parents (people who are predominantly cisgender and heterosexual) tell me that they read this book to their children frequently, and it is loved more and more each time.  It’s abundantly clear that diverse and representative characters in books (as well as tv, theatre and film) have as broad appeal as any other.  They tell stories that we all need to hear, particularly as many of these stories have (quite scandalously) been previously denied a platform. 

This is a book all LGBTQ+ children need to read, whether their childhood is happening now, or if it finished a long time ago.  Many LGBTQ+ people were denied such affirmation and kindness, so, if you can bear it, give yourself a brief time to go back, and be the person you needed when you were younger.  This book will serve as an excellent roadmap.  Go on, treat yourself…be a mermaid!

Buy it now

Review © Jezza Donovan 2019

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Film Review: Benjamin

4*

It’s not often that a film leaves you desperately wanting more. Most modern movies outstay their welcome by at least half an hour, but it’s one of the many achievements of Simon Amstell’s debut feature film that when the end comes it feels surprisingly early.

Writer/director Amstell’s film is a very funny and beautifully romantic story of creative people attempting to navigate the twin mazes of forging a career and finding love. It’s brilliantly performed, elegantly shot, and fits snuggly into the British romcom tradition while simultaneously standing out as a genuine original.

Who knows from whence curly-haired insecure teetotal writer/director/performer Amstell conjured the curly-haired insecure teetotal writer/director/performer protagonist Benjamin? One can only speculate, but Colin Morgan makes the part his own in a performance that perfectly balances desire, ambition and awkward honesty.

Benjamin is a previously-acclaimed filmmaker struggling with his difficult second feature, suffering pangs of anxiety over whether there are enough – or too many – inserts of Tibetan monk wisdom in his semi-autobiographical movie about love and commitment.

When Benjamin and his best friend, stand-up comedian Stephen (Joel Fry) are dragged to an arty party, Benjamin is instantly smitten with soulful French singer Noah (Phénix Brossard) and pretty soon the pair are on the bumpy road to romance. Along the way Benjamin’s film receives its premiere, and he begins a reluctant collaboration with pretentious rising star Harry, played by a gorgeously obnoxious Jack Rowan.

Each character is truthfully and sympathetically drawn, with the common link of coping with the uncertainty of establishing a career in the arts. When Stephen has a disastrous stand-up gig, his confidence is shattered, leading Benjamin to worry that his depressed friend may have reached the end of his tether. Here, Fry is superb at showing the raw horror of despair, and Morgan wonderfully and sensitively captures the helpless fear that comes with caring for someone with depression. But such moments of intense drama are never allowed to unbalance the tone of the film – a gag is never far away to break the tension.

While Amstell treats the main characters’ creative endeavours with respect but not indulgence, he has a lot of fun at the expense of the more out-there artists. There’s a hilarious scene with a straight-faced performance artist, and Harry’s starting point for his project with Benjamin (he eschews ideas such as story and character) is an instinctive feeling that he should be asleep in a burgundy coat, dreaming of swans. It’s a delightfully cheeky mockery that Amstell and his cast judge just right, pulling no punches but stopping short of being cruel.

And then, as you’re settled in and enjoying the ride, the film ends and you’re left with a feeling that its climaxed too soon, so to speak. I want to know where Benjamin and Noah’s on/off relationship goes next? Will Stephen be okay? Will Harry get over himself? What does Benjamin’s cat think of it all? So many questions. I demand a sequel.

© Nick Myles 2019

Benjamin is in cinemas from Friday 15th March. More info.

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