Continuing The Reviews Hub’s weekly roundup of LGBTQ+ shows playing at the VAULT Festival 2020, Richard Maguire talks to some of the creatives behind three plays opening this week: [The Cobbled Streets of Geneva], Splintered and Oddball.
This year the VAULT Festival is proud that around a third of its productions are from the LGBTQIA + community, and that one quarter of shows are from BAME artists. Sometimes these numbers overlap and in [The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] and Splintered we see work by queer artists of colour. The first, written by Nemo Martin, is a rom-com about two Muslim men who go on holiday to the Alps. The show is also about visual impairment and the brackets in the title allude to the captions that appear under photographs. Martin is not Muslim, but as British-Japanese they understand what it is like to be queer and a person of colour.
Martin was at first cautious about writing a story about two Muslims, but had the support of many Muslim friends who helped with the script. Martin is also keen to point out that ‘Muslim’ is not a single identity and their protagonists in the play hail from different regions; one is from Malaysia while the other is British Pakistani. Plays about queer Muslims are still far and few between and Martin thought it imperative that – spoiler alert – the two men have a happy ending, thus ensuring that happy endings are possible in real life too.
A celebratory tone also appears in Splintered, a verbatim piece presenting the experiences of queer women from Trinidad and Tobago. Even though the country had its first Pride march in 2018, it is still hard for anyone to live an openly queer life, especially women. When the writer and director Emily Aboud went to talk to these women she found it difficult to meet with them or even find somewhere safe to talk. Indeed, she says that some testimonies were acquired through WhatsApp messaging rather than face-to-face interviews.
Even though the subject matter is challenging, there is a party atmosphere to the proceedings with the three actors all taking turns to become MCs presiding over a Caribbean carnival. There is plenty of music too. Aboud doesn’t just want to criticise the Caribbean: she want to praise it as well, seeing it as a truly multicultural society. The title of the show comes from the song Splinters by Shal Marshall, a song that celebrates Caribbean culture. However, Aboud believes that queer women are splintered off from this culture because of misogyny and homophobia; they are excluded. Splintered allows these women to speak.
Also tackling taboo subjects is Francesca Forristal who examines eating disorders in her comedy Oddball. Forristal suffered from anorexia in her younger years, but while her show has autobiographical elements the character she plays on stage is fictional. This character at the start of Oddball, getting ready for a date with another woman, seems to display her eating disorders as a kooky and sexy feature of her personality, but Forristal is keen that we see anorexia as a mental illness that we should talk about directly. She also says that it should be de-romanticised rather than remain the dark tragic secret it is often portrayed as.
Instead of down in the cavernous Vaults, Oddball is playing upstairs at the Horse and Stables, a pub just down the road, and Forristal hopes that the more relaxed venue will bring out the more comic elements in her show and allow her to address the audience more easily. It’s a busy week for Forristal as she is also starring in Dragprov, which has its first show on Valentine’s Day. Here she plays her drag king alter-ego, Christian Adore, in an improvised musical comedy alongside drag queen Eaton Messe. It promises to be a hoot.
The VAULT Festival may be bigger and busier than ever, but as these creatives prove, it’s still a hotbed of emerging talent who are keen to tell it like it is. As Splintered’s Emily Aboud suggests; ‘Come free up yuhself!’.
[The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] runs until 16 February
Splintered runs until 16 February 2020
Oddball runs until 16 February 2020
Dragprov is on 14 February and 21 February only.