Posts Tagged ‘queer’

Review – Trainers: A Theatrical Essay – Gate Theater

March 4, 2020

When you’re a critic, you learn that press releases aren’t always the truth. I mean, the truth can vary depending on who is telling it, so let’s say press releases sometimes don’t meet my truth. Let’s discuss the press release for Trainers:

“Set in a post gender future, Trainers… is part essay and part play. It follows a struggling writer who falls in with a group of depressed queer revolutionaries during a future civil war … [and] explores what it takes to challenge the politics of one’s time and how we can train for a revolution.

“Director Hestor Chillingworth said ‘For anyone who has questions about theatre, gender, power and hope – Trainers is a great place to come to ask them with us.’ ”

This is what was promised. I am a queer theater maker, and my partner is trans. I am interested in queer theater, gender, trans “work,” and, well, theater! I would have thought I was the ideal audience for this show, but …

Two actors are on stage. One appears to be cis female (Nicky Hobday); the other could be cis or trans but is called “he” in the program (Nando Messias) and is wearing a fabulous dress. They are standing on a stage with many objects on it – chairs, rolled carpets, a horse statue, an office chair, a stool, a bicycle, a bucket of paint, et cetera. They start talking – sometimes in turns, sometimes simultaneously – explaining a bit of the concept of what we are about to watch. It’s sort of an essay. It’s sort of inspired by Montaigne. The conceit is used that when one of them says “I” they are the writer of the work.

So … there is rather a long bit about essay writing, which seemed in the end to say that essays don’t have to have a point, and at some point the “I” starts to be a writer who is living in this post-apocalyptic future where people ride horses and parts of the city are walled off from others. “I” is a writer, in love with Stephen, who writes revolutionary pamphlets and is popular.

Beyond this … there is little sense of a real story, no narrative forward motion, and very little sense of real people being created on stage. It didn’t even really tie the metaphor of “trainers” in, despite numerous mention of personal trainers. Instead, the actors change clothes, eat paint and oil (or pretend to), and neither do nor say anything that to me indicated queerness or transness. The only scene that really struck me was very trans was one in which they attempted to negotiate a first sexual encounter with each other, knowing nothing of what sensitive bits of human machinery they might work with; but otherwise …

Trainers (c) Alex Harvey Brown – Nando Messias and Nicki Hobday


How to have a revolution? Challenging the politics of one’s times? I felt I got none of this, and only the slightest taste of there being other events going on besides the slight story of a possible romance. People in the audience were cheering wildly, but I felt this show was self indulgent and formless. It’s a shame, because both performers were quite compelling and I can imagine happily seeing them in a different production in the future. Trainers on for a three week run, though, so possibly there are many people out there who will find this show speaks to them. Me, it made me think I should put my head to doing more explicitly queer works, because while we all know the revolution will not be televised, this made me think it’s not going to be on the stage, either. Not this time, anyway.

(This review was for press night, which took place March 3, 2020. It continues through March 21st.)

Review – Queerstory – Mercury Presents at Mirth, Marvel and Maud

July 24, 2019

You remember that little show that was on as a preview for one night only except you were doing your own show and teleportation hasn’t been invented and it sold out anyway? Well, there’s been some good work on time travel in the meantime, and thanks to the power of The Future, Alexander Luttley / Pi the Mime / Mercury and Professor Maxim brought their show Queerstory back for a one-off show at Mirth, Marvel and Maud in Walthamstow (the venue itself, a converted cinema, is well worth checking out any time: not only does it have a pleasant beer garden, but there are TWO pinball games inside at 50p a game – Bride of Pinbot and Galaxy for fellow connoisseurs).

To be honest I didn’t know too much ABOUT Queerstory other than that Mercury was doing it and it was something about queer history, but it just sounded SO good and the more I’ve seen him do, the more I want to see more (his work is more-ish, especially that fabulous Break A Lash thing two weeks back). But this time I made it and I can give you ALL of the juicy gossip about this … well let’s be honest, my expectations were pretty high, but I can now say honestly … fanTAStic evening, of music, history, and ALL of the queerness you could ever hope for! And Piers Morgan in a pig nose playing the accordion!

Mercury and Professor Maxim at Queerstory


Queerstory is, essentially, a mostly musical history of the LGBTQ+ (I think they had it as LGBTTQQIAAP and one extra for kink) community. We went through some basics (including, “If you’re riled up, there’s a safe word. It’s called the exit”), including the very crucial concept that history is written by the winners, and this community has frequently found itself erased (not helped at all by Section 28) from history books. We went through the meaning of the acronym, then did a little alphabet of queerness with various people for each letter (both Vita and Virginia making it in for V!). We had paper and pencil so we could take notes and research later. School was in session!

Not surprisingly, this show had a strong root in musical theater, using “The Cellblock Tango” to provide a fantastic cruise through the homophobes’ book of excuses and “Let’s Fall In Love” to talk about famous lesbians. There was a stop in Spoliansky Weimar for “Lavender Nights,” but also a completely original Polari pattersong! (Given that I’d just seen Ida Barr – Christopher Green – do a Polari rap, it was feeling VERY much like the summer trend of 2019.) And, to my delight, we came back from the interval to the haunting voice of Klaus Nomi. All hail our queer ancestors.

More modern history – post Stonewall – had a lot to cover, from the hanky code to the impact of HIV, but more importantly (to me) the evolution of queerness to where it is now – not just the cisgender LGB of yore, but a worldview that allows for nonbinary, that accepts asexuality, and that celebrates rather than excludes allies. Because … looking at where we’re at right now … this is no time for resting on our laurels. We need to stand up for each other, call out people within and without the community for being assholes, and not throw any one of our queer communities under the bus because they don’t fit it to mainstream society. We need to stand up against misogyny and celebrate queer bodies smashing the binary.

It’s true, at the end this felt a whole lot less like a lecture, and more like a rally, because all of us were standing up and cheering and feeling like, yes, we were seeing ourselves represented and celebrated on stage. Probably the only person who would really hate this is people who like their musical theater but just wish queer people could be a little less “out” and just try to fit in. But that night, I felt a whole room full of people saying I didn’t need to fit in to have a family of people who accepted. I was fine the way I am. And I loved it. Top night out and I only wish I could find more of the info (and lyrics) online so I could research just who in the world was the letter X!

(This review was for a performance that took place Monday, August 22, 2019. This show will be reprised in a likely modified and possibly expanded version at Theater Royal Stratford East in October. Details will be added as they become available.)