What does ‘The Queer Bash’ actually mean, do you think? Because to me, it seems like a deliberate double entendre – which, if you’ve ever been to a performance by RedTIE Theatre, is to be expected. My Dad always used to tell me that his favourite part of any of our RedTIE performances was the fact he was in hysterical laughter one minute, and crying his eyes out the next. The dedication, commitment, and integrity that RedTIE pour into their performances to produce this pathos has not changed in the ten years I’ve known the company, and ‘The Queer Bash’ is a prime example of that.
The beginning of the show for me was unique, because it wasn’t the same beginning the rest of the audience witnessed. For me, it all began as I stood outside of the Apollo Theatre waiting for the doors to open so I could escape from the cross, grey sky.
“How’s it going Carl?” I asked, as I saw Carl Burch – the director ‘The Queer Bash’ initially blossomed from, rush outside to get some fresh air.
Carl looked at me with slight worry in his eyes, and simply replied:
Now, if you were lucky enough to catch any of the runs of RedTIE Theatre’s previous youth production, ‘No Ball Games’, about women’s rights, feminism, and equality, which had also been directed by Carl, you’d know that this rather talented young chap had absolutely nothing to worry about. So, after reassuring him the show would be amazing, by reminding him that he pours his honest heart and soul into everything he does, I hid inside away from the scary sky.
Inside the Apollo Theatre, large walls of green and pink – with a distinctive white line across the middle of the stage to suggest boundaries – awaited me. The set was very minimal, with the tall walls looming over you like an entrapping holding cell, and one table in the corner on a thrust stage. But the most interesting thing about the initial set-up was that a conscious decision had been made to keep all doors on stage open, which seemed to me to represent the underlying metaphor that human beings are always changing and developing, and we should never feel there are any barriers restricting us from being our true selves.
The piece began with choral choreographed apprehensiveness, as the cast – all sporting a plethora of colourful of t-shirts – frantically anticipated the legalisation/veto of their way of life – nervously waiting for the ‘all important’ go ahead (by ‘the powers that be’ who clearly had the right to decide for them), for who they should love. Relief spread and a ‘Queer Bash’ commenced as the good news came: it was okay to be gay! Yay!
Until gunshots were fired.
The party ceased.
One by one, the cast fell.
Apparently, being gay, is not okay. Not according to Orlando anyway.
Or FORMER Island MP Andrew Turner for that matter…
There was sudden stillness in the audience and a cold that clung to the theatre, hanging like thin glass about to be dropped. This was the first laughter – tears moment, just like my Dad had told me about… only this time, I got to watch it, feel it… be part of it in a way that’s somehow different to being in a RedTIE show and trying to evoke those emotions from your audience. An audio clip then played of a mother distraught, trying to find her murdered son… The use of this real life audio held as a firm reminder to the audience that, despite us being in a cosy theatre on comfy little chairs – nothing about the harsh, horrific treatment of LGBT+ people is neither comfy, or cosy. It is very real, and happening across the globe RIGHT NOW.
The action, in true RedTIE style, then shifted to a totally different, strange ritualistic scene full of sexual noises… which I’m still not sure I totally understood… But Matthew Lane seemed to enjoy it, so fair enough!
And then, LESBIAN WATCH. The scene that introduced an integral element that would be seamlessly strung through the whole piece! And no, I don’t mean Joe Davies (despite him being a strong presence throughout). I mean the idea that if you had any form of contact with an LGBT+ person, you could ‘catch’ their ‘disease’… Sounds ridiculous I know, but there are bigots who SERIOUSLY believe you can ‘catch gay’…There are words to describe them, but since I am not currently sure of IW Theatre’s vulgar language policy, I shan’t do so in this review. Very saddening though, isn’t it… how one of the main ways people experience love, through the intimacy of touch: holding hands, hugging, kissing – is made dirty and negative simply because of how LGBT+ people identify. What I’d like to know is: how does their identity remotely effect the bone-headed bigots who shun them? Ponder on that for a while…
*Waits for you to ponder*
Back to the action!
With Britney Kent’s ‘war cry’ (which was a wonderful marvel to behold, by the way!), echoing my frustration against the bigots of ‘Lesbian Watch’, ‘the great minge war’ was over, and the play went on to tackle stereotypes and religion, with another scene that I felt particularly stood out: ‘the hair cut’, as I like to call it (enigmatic, I know!)
In this scene, Esther Poucher plays a woman who requests to have her hair cut short at a hair dressers. And with a whirl of the Pride flag, Esther suddenly looks a lot like Chloe Russell-Thompson (Great job Esther, the resemblance was uncanny!). Chlesther (that’s her name now), then goes to visit her ‘friends’, who proceed to harass her for her new look, with the line: ‘I’m Christian, you’re offending me!’ being thrown in. I remember myself thinking about Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ at this point, which I’d recently performed for RedTIE, in which Scripps comments: ‘They say you have to love God because God loves you…’ – but apparently, that all depends on your sexuality… (quick side note, apparently ‘religious belief’ is also Andrew Turner’s reason for thinking LGBT+ people are ‘a danger to society’… Nice one God. Keep up the love). Provided God does exist, which we aren’t sure of anyway, HOW THE HECK DOES A PERSONS SEXUALITY REMOTELY EFFECT A DEITY?! Surely, if God was that offended, It could just go somewhere that gay people don’t exist! – being ‘Almighty’ and whatnot…
Sexuality is for you, personally. The only reason these ‘labels’ exist is so we can try to better understand ourselves, and our own desires. It is not for anyone else, and it does not matter how you identify. Its who you are.
The next scene, performed by the ensemble cast, made me think that people seem not to pay any attention to an LGBT+ issue, until they’ve witness a heterosexual person being ‘victimised’. This scene depicted abuse against an LGBT+ person happening whilst a party commenced at the back of the stage. The party-goers paid no attention to the abuse at all until the LGBT+ person tried to fight back to stop themselves being strangled to death – which is when the ‘blind-eye’ party-goers intervened and protected the heterosexual ‘victim’. I feel this was a very powerful choreographed section which conveyed perfectly the real truth we rarely hear, not on any news channel and not even online (unless you actively look for it) – about the sick treatment of LGBT+ people all over the world: From mass judgement, to genuine torture… Needless to say, this cause needs you, and it needs you now. Esther Poucher has already proven in the last week that simply standing up, walking out, and saying: ‘Its terrifying that in this age and point in our development as a society, there are still people that can’t care about a person’s well-being to just accept who they are’, can evoke massive positive change that protects the rights and lives of LGBT+ people.
One of the main things that made The Queer Bash a truly unforgettable experience is the fact that Carl Burch, Chloe Russell-Thompson and Beth Veitch (the directors of the piece), made sure that every viewpoint was covered. One of the most entertaining, but also most clever – because it was so over-exaggerated you were almost able to forget the seriousness of the situation – was, what I call ‘The Gay Bar’ scene. Here we witness one of the best RedTIE comedy double acts of this age: Carl Burch and Joe Davies playing incredibly exaggerated and stereotypical gay men! Hilarity ensured for a majority of the scene (honestly, you have to see it!), until a heterosexual couple enter and ask for some drinks. The disgusted look on Carl and Joe’s faces, and the way they did everything in their power not to touch the couple (the running motif), cleverly gave the audience a reverse perspective of what discrimination is like for LGBT+ people. Carl and Joe’s exaggerated characters suddenly went from being hilarious to quite nasty, as we see them and the ensemble cast cease their flamboyant dancing, turn on the couple, and chase them out. Poor Rob Ellis. Not moments before he was happily buying his girlfriend a drink, and as soon as the party goers turn on them, she legged it!
Okay, so the next scene, in my opinion (despite there being many poignant ones), is my favourite of the entire piece. I call it, ‘Judgement Day’. The reason? That’s exactly what ‘coming out’ feels like for a large number of LGBT+ people. Kieran Jenvey did a stellar job empathising with the difficult emotions in this scene, and performed with a realistic integrity that left me lost for words. Kieran confesses to his father (Carl Burch) that he is homosexual. The father embodied pure disgust. He would barely look at his son, let alone touch him. I truly commend Carl here for performing with total honesty, as it must have been very difficult to play a scene that, had he not had supportive people in his life, could have happened to him. At one moment, Carl’s character spits that Kieran is a ‘freak’, and that ‘it isn’t normal’ – in response an audience member nervously laughed, showing how hard we find it as a society to accept that things like this do truly happen. My favourite moment of the whole play is Kieran’s booming response: ‘Well maybe its normal to me!’. The theatre was totally silent as a broken Kieran left the stage. All I could think was: that line totally encapsulates the uniqueness of people, and the empathy we should always have because you cannot possibly see the world as someone else does. What is ‘normality’ for you won’t be for anyone else. It isn’t hard to respect that.
But guess what? There are still parts of the world that don’t. Even now. And to emphasise how much time we’ve had to learn to simply respect each other: a scene led by Rob Ellis. Rob narrated, and Leyla Baxman played Rob. To summarise, Leyla (as Rob), confesses that she (or ‘he’ in this case…), is gay, and then is forced to leave a party her friends are having because ‘its not the right time yet. Perhaps in years to come we will be able to accept who you are’. She (or ‘he’ rather…) returns multiple times, after years have passed, only to find that they still cannot accept her (or ‘him’… Wow this is confusing! Except its not, because the gender doesn’t matter, the point does… which I think is probably also the point). The thing that makes their non-acceptance of Robeyla (that’s his/her name now) worse? They’ve ‘been busy with whatever we were doing’, as the cast reply when Robeyla asks why they cannot accept his/her sexuality. This was an integral scene because it highlighted the fact that, when asked why they do not accept LGBT+ people, the common response is often confused and vague – they don’t really know! And yet, people’s lives are still ruined and broken apart because of it… How does that make an ounce of sense…?
One of the most effective things about this piece was the seamless combination of choreographed movement and dialogue led scenes. Just when you thought your heart had been ripped apart by words, a piece of beautiful choreography would say something that words never could. After a speech by Carl about how worried he’d been about coming out as gay to his mother in reality, but being very fortunate when his mum responded with ‘Carl, I’ve known since you were three’, followed a scene that conveyed what it may be like for somebody who is not so fortunate. I personally think this play had a little too many ‘coming out’ scenes, to the point where you were almost used to what would happen next – the disgust, the rejection. But the mothers reaction was not what made this scene beautiful – it was the choreography that followed.
Helen Reading as the mother did a wonderful job here at painfully realising how she’d made her son feel by rejecting him, as her expression went from revolted to shock and sadness upon witnessing two scenes either side of her: one of abusive rejection, one of total acceptance. This presentation of the two future possibilities for the mother and her son made her reconsider how she’d treated him, and there was a wonderful moment where the mother reaches out to him and they hold hands – touch being the method of acceptance. This makes me think, perhaps if discriminatory people were presented with real life abusive coming out scenes, they may actually reconsider their judgement… even if it is a huge shame that we’d have to go that far in the first place…
Joe Davies then headed up ‘straight pride’, containing bigotry, sarcasm, an obligatory Brexit joke, many horrible lines like ‘We believe lesbians just haven’t found the right cock’, and, ‘I don’t mind you being gay but don’t do it in my face’, followed by a piece of choreography with many heterosexual couples slow dancing together, but when a homosexual couple attempt to join in they are beaten to the ground – Sam Woodley and Carl Burch worked very hard to convey intense emotion here.
Needless to say, it almost felt wrong to spend the interval sat casually eating an Easter egg I hadn’t had a chance to chomp down on before now… Especially where Christianity had thus far not been too welcoming in this piece…
But never mind that! Because following the interval there was a very distinctive mood change. The main transgender focused part of the performance was introduced here, and so came the idea that transgender people are inspirations in the LGBT+ fight against discrimination. The majority of the first half depicted a very bleak past, and an uncertain future for changing attitudes on LGBT+ people. But now, enter ‘The Baddest Bitches in Herstory’, and watch RedTIE show you that you don’t wanna be messin’ with ‘em! A while before The Queer Bash was even created, Carl showed me a hilarious clip from RuPaul’s Drag Race – an American TV series produced for VH1: a network based in New York – that comprised of a number of ‘drag queens’ performing a song called ‘The Baddest Bitches in Herstory’, by Lucian Piane. This scene was around six minutes of pure beauty, sass, and tons of fun! And really did begin the second act with a totally new and different kind of energy from the first half. Featuring Esther Poucher, Rob Ellis, a wonderful surprise cameo from fellow RedTIE veteran Hebe Gregory, Kieran Jenvey, Chloe Russell-Thompson, Britney Kent, Carl Burch, Helen Reading, and Joe Davies. All worked incredibly hard to pull off full on, non-stop energy, and this scene was by far one of the funniest in the whole show! Not to mention the fact it gave the cast a reason to put on incredibly flamboyant dresses – which of course, Kieran and Joe pulled off better than any of the ladies! (sorry girls, but its true – the lads were striking!).
Straight after this, Helen Reading stays on stage, removes her jet black wig, and performs a powerful monologue of her own about RedTIE, how proud she is of what the kids produce and how brilliant they’ve been tackling these difficult topics, but most importantly: simple things people are fully capable of, that judgemental discriminators do not do for LGBT+ people: listen, accept, celebrate, love – that to me sounds like a successful formula for life and happiness!
Want to know what else is a successful formula for life and happiness? Carl Burch as the Queen of England handing out lube and condoms – one of which he (or ‘she’ in this case… here we go again eh?) threw directly at me, and told me to ‘be safe!’ I actually lost it. ‘The Queen’ throwing a condom at me certainly wasn’t how I thought my day was going to go! This was then proceeded by two ‘Queen scenes’, one of her being incredibly happy that Prince George had come out as gay, the other of her calling Princess Charlotte ‘greedy’ and being disgusted as she comes out as bisexual.
This theme of bisexual people being gluttonous was made even nastier as Joe Davies headed up the ‘Bisexual Bedtime Story’ scene, in which he plays a father who tells his children a story about what a ‘bisexual’ is. His recurring line is: ‘I’m still horny! – shouts the greedy bisexual’, as he speaks of a bisexual person who cannot stop touching any woman and man they meet. I feel that it was an incredibly powerful creative decision by the directors to have a monologue proceeding this in which ‘love a person – not a gender’ is stated. Because that, believe it or not, is the only difference between a bisexual person, and a person who is attracted to one gender – people who identify as bisexual don’t care if you have a penis or a vagina, they love you regardless. And what the heck is wrong with that?!
Well, that all depends on what country you live in of course! – as possibly the most visual and therefore striking scene of the play highlighted, that I call: ‘Death By Nationalism’. Here, Kate Wilkinson frantically tries to escape from judgement and torture, but every way she runs, the cast – most holding flags from the nationalities who outlaw, condemn, and torture LGBT+ people – corner her, envelop her with the flags, and string her up using them. It’s interesting to note two things here: colour is used in this play to symbolise radicalisation (the flags), and freedom (the colourful t-shirts of the cast), and secondly: this scene showcased possibly one of the scariest trust exercises people can perform: having someone hoisted into the air, and thrown into the arms of a group of people waiting to catch them – in the middle of a striking scene that showed, in some countries, if you’re LGBT+, you probably feel as if you cannot trust a living soul.
The latter end of this play was beautiful, funny, and very poignant. There was an incredibly touching piece of choreography featuring Mimi Poulton and Rob Ellis, in which the two slowly moved towards the dividing line in the centre of the stage, shared a gentle look of understanding, and then switched t-shirts – Mimi putting on Rob’s blue, and Rob putting on Mimi’s purple. The look of total relief on Mimi’s face, as if she’d just grown wings and was finally free, was very moving and beautifully performed. Then came very free, liberal Americans Vs. stiff-up-a-lip Brits in a scene that highlighted how behind the times we can be in speaking openly about LGBT+ issues.
But to really hit the messages home, there was no shortage of speaking openly in ‘The Queer Bash’. Powerful monologues were spread throughout the piece – each part of the LGBT+ community given its own voice. These monologues were delivered with beautiful integrity and immense bravery by Chloe Russell-Thompson, Sam Woodley, Matthew Lane, Carl Burch, Esther Poucher, and Beth Veitch respectively. And it is the final one: The details of the Orlando shootings by Beth Veitch, that I’d like to discuss here. This did not feel performed to me at all, it felt like, if Beth had just stood up out of the blue and spoken from the heart, exactly the same words would have come out as the ones she’d been rehearsing. Beth had incredible stage presence during this speech, the entire audience were totally silent as she hit home for one last time the very real truths of violent LGBT+ abuse, with her ending line being ‘welcome to LGBT in the modern world – they want us dead.’
And then the protests began. LGBT+ people against discriminators, over and over and over again. They get beaten down, they get back up. Constantly fighting.
The piece then ends with the names of the people murdered because of their identity being projected onto the back wall, while the cast stand together, holding hands, and watch as the list continues on.
As the lights dimmed, the theatre roared.
A standing ovation commenced.
And with a big smile on my face, I thought to myself: ‘see Carl, told you there was nothing to worry about.’
By Andrew Butcher – Writer and Performer