Features Performance Published 5 June 2014

Gay Pride, Gay Shame and Queer Commissions

Alice Saville's monthly round up of London's LGBT theatre and performance.
Alice Saville

Alex Swift’s Travesty at Ovalhouse

Alan Bennett’s refreshingly candid perspective on his playwriting career, recently stated in an interview with BBC4, is that “my objection to people knowing more about one’s private life was that I didn’t want to be put in a pigeonhole. I didn’t want to be labelled as gay and that was it.”

For anyone who feels even remotely Alan Bennett-like at the thought of attending something as brash, loud and proud as London’s LGBT+ Pride, there’s an alternative on offer courtesy of DUCKIE’s Gay Shame and Lesbian Weakness. This night promises to celebrate the grimier, sticky carpeted history of underground gay venues in a reaction against the rainbow-whistle tooting, corporate-sponsor touting realities of modern day parades.

For sweeter fare, look at the Pride themed events as part of the opening weekend of Southbank’s sprawling Festival of Love this summer, including pre-meet-ups for LGBTQ teenagers who are brave enough to discuss “first loves and coming out” in company. There’s also still time to sign up for the venue’s engagingly mad Big Wedding Weekend for 160 couples who want to get legally hitched, to celebrate same sex marriage becoming law. £1000 gets you  “choirs, fanfares and live music on the Royal Festival Hall stage”, champagne, a whole day of music and dancing, photos, two bouquets, and tickets for 40 guests — although celebrants have to provide their own dresses/suits which should lessen the potential for Moonie mass wedding vibes.

There’s also a special Rage and Pride edition of Transposed at Hackney Picturehouse  with poetry and spoken word from Kat Gupta, Jude Sandelewski, Andra Simons and Jessie Holder, as well as music from Seth Corbin and Not Right. These events draw all attention, whether explicitly or implicitly, to the shortcomings or limitations of the main London Community Pride celebration, which has been dogged by organisational problems since, and before, the floatless fiasco that was 2012’s WorldPride, when a funding crisis meant all entertainment and stages were cut. Pride London has also lost its license for the street parties and stages that used to fill Soho, and this year’s website is distinctly light on tie-in events. Pride could and should be a opportunity to showcase London’s LGBT artists (not counting the scam variety who line up to flog flags) in front of a captive audience of Saturday gawkers and confused Oxford Street shoppers, as much as an opportunity for big companies to tout their diversity initiatives. 

A bright spot among Pride’s event mix of club nights and gala dinners, Ovalhouse has commissioned Transforming Stories, which are three queer works in progress running as a triple bill. They mix spoken word, contemporary dance and interactive video art to tell queer stories from first-hand experiences to 1930s divas and the Spanish Civil War, to queer heroes and “making stuff out of rubbish”. Also at the Ovalhouse, there’s Travesty by Alex Swift, who directed Exeunt favourite Caroline Horton’s Mess. It seems pointless to paraphrase this  “punked-up, broken-down drag show about patriarchy, an ugly/beautiful/tender/desperate/stupid/funny/sad dance around man’s inhumanity to woman. We meet without our weapons.” But in still, pithier terms, one audience review calls it “a drag show featuring a lecture about gender and sexuality by Iggy Pop channelling Bette Davis shredding a guitar with a boxing glove. The best performance I have seen in months.” 

 And if that sounds like hyperbole, Christeene at the Soho Theatre has got programme copywriting down to an in-yer-face artform, touting “A gender-blending booty-pounding perversion of punk dragged through a musical theatre gutter, commanded by CHRISTEENE: a human pissoir of foul hilarity and raw unabashed sexuality. In this furious ritual,CHRISTEENE is sacrifice, calling the world to bring their burning anger, their tawdry secrets, and their stained hopes to the front.”

With so much genre-bending activity going on this month it would be easy, but a mistake to forget about “straight” theatre this month. Exeunt loved Another Country  at Trafalgar Studios, which is set in an oppressive 1930s boarding school, after the suicide of a boy whose tryst with another boy was about to be exposed, and looks at the toxic, secretive environment that bred the likes of the Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. There’s less subterfuge and more soap bubbles on offer at Above The Stag’s Bathhouse: The Musical — it promises good fun, but not so much of the “clean”.

It might be that Pride 2014 scrubs up a treat, too — for now, the music line-up is firmly under wraps. Alan Bennett is also known for replying, when asked about his sexuality, “That’s a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water.” The Parade is unlikely to be a complete cultural, let alone romantic, desert, but let’s hope it offers something fresh for its vast, sweating, midsummer audience.


Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B



Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.