Even though it’s week six of the VAULT Festival, currently being held in the cavernous tunnels under Waterloo station, it seems as if London’s biggest fringe festival has never been busier. One of the most exciting features of the festival is the diversity of the shows, and in The Reviews Hub’s occasional roundup of queer slanted plays Richard Maguire talks to three people behind three eagerly awaited shows that are presented this week: Roann McCloskey, Chloe Christian and Jess Rahman-Gonzalez.
First up is Roann McCloskey who brings her very provocatively entitled show My Father The Tantric Masseur to The Pit, one of the VAULT’s most atmospheric venues. Reading the blurb for the show online, it may seem that Roann’s one-woman play is a fiction, as it sounds so far-fetched. But she promises it’s true, that her father really did go to Thailand to learn some soothing tantric strokes. She found that when she told anyone about it, she would be falling on the floor with laughter and embarrassment. Soon, she realised it would be perfect material for a comic show.
Roann feels that she doesn’t quite fit in with society as she is half Algerian and half British. She says, quite alarmingly, that many people have joked about her being half a terrorist. She is also sidelined by the fact that she likes both men and women. Seeing the label ‘bisexual’ as too restrictive Roann prefers to call herself queer, and in her show she talks about how difficult it was coming out to her family. Indeed, most of her Algerian Muslim family still do not know.
This is the first time that Roann has performed a solo show and, while she admits that she is nervous, she thinks the play is ready for an audience. She is supported by two directors; Joel Samuels, who helped with the dramaturgy, and Lolo Brow, who helped Roann to work the room. When she mined her life for this story, Roann worried that this would mean there would no material left for a second or a third one-woman show, but plenty of episodes from her life were left on the cutting room floor ensuring that one day there may be a sequel to My Father The Tantric Masseur. Although finding a title to match may be hard work!
Eschewing autobiography for fiction, Thank You Dark productions bring their film noir comedy Without That Certain Thing to The Network theatre, the most conventional black box space of all the VAULT’s venues. The play begins at a LGB speed-dating night where lesbian private investigator, Emery, meets the ‘straight’ Madeleine who declares that she’s being stalked by a man called Swann. Soon Emery is tailing both of them across the city, in a pastiche of film noir classics. Emery even turns up the collar of her raincoat to emulate stars like Humphrey Bogart.
However, it’s not just film noirs that are evoked in this play; with characters called Madeleine and Swann, writer Rory Platt is also touching on Proustian themes. He wants to explore how femininity has historically been silenced on pedestals or chased through city streets in black and white films. Aware of his own male gaze, he made sure that a woman, Chloe Christian, directed his show. As a queer woman, Chloe wanted to be certain that the characters’ sexualities were not the plots of the play.
Lesbian detective fiction is a popular genre, and so Without That Certain Thing unquestionably problematises expectations as it is written by a man. Chloe, who works as a staff director for the ENO, has gathered a talented team for this production, and together they seek to use the stage to its full advantage to represent the play’s many settings. This is her first time at the VAULT Festival on this side of the stage and she hopes that there is a future for Without a Certain Thing, emphasising that its interrogation of feminine stereotypes is very timely.
Dead Reckoning by theatre company Clumsy Bodies also seeks to challenge stereotypes; those of the trans body. Jess Rahman-Gonzalez and Oli Isaac Smith want to present the voices of trans people and their many different narratives. Too often the media and films put forward a single narrative suggesting that all trans people want to transition, or want to pass. In Dead Reckoning Jess and Oli will provide numerous stories, each one distinctive, of the trans people they have interviewed in the last year.
Jess, who identifies as a trans, non-binary disabled person, first thought that the interviews would lead to a big celebration of what it means to be trans in the same way as Pride events celebrate what it means to be gay. But as Jess and Oli continued to interview trans people at home as they carried on their everyday lives, the pair realised that celebration was recorded not by a big party, but by small moments of affirmation. In their show they will ‘act out’ the interviews on stage using humour and choreography to retell these true stories. Some of their interviewees will be in the audience when the show opens this weekend, and it will be the first time that they will see their onstage avatars.
They will also use drag in their show, underlining how the queer art form is valuable in showing how gender is constructed, especially, in these toxic days, masculinity. Jess hopes that drag can offer other ways of looking at gender, such as a trans femininity or a trans masculinity. While they are ready for this weekend’s two shows, Jess is keen to point out that this is a work in progress, and that after the shows the audience will be given an opportunity to discuss the parts which worked and the parts which didn’t in order that Clumsy Bodies can develop the show for the future. Jess can also be seen in itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s new music video. Apparently the band got their name from a line in the film There Will Be Blood, and Jess can’t promise that there won’t be blood in Dead Reckoning!
So, week six at the VAULT looks the most diverse so far, and these three LGBTQ+ shows are joined by the riotous sounding Coming Clean: Life as a Naked House Cleaner and comedy by Sarah Keyworth; It promises to be a blast!
My Father The Tantric Masseur and Without a Certain Thing run until 3 March 2019 | Dead Reckoning runs 2/3 March 2019| The VAULT Festival continues until 17 March 2019
Richard Maguire | Image: Contributed