After looking at comedy last time The Reviews Hub thought it would return to theatre for this week’s regular roundup of LGBTQ+ shows at this year’s VAULT Festival, and the ones we’ve selected are as varied as can be. Richard Maguire talked to the creatives behind Arabitch, This Queer House and Dumbledore Is So Gay.
That the gay scene is some kind of utopia where prejudice has been banished and where equality reigns is a myth, and which is gradually being questioned. Gay dating apps used to allow people to write on their online profiles ‘No Fats, No Femmes, No Blacks, No Asians.’ Racism within the gay scene is an issue that Sara Dawood tackles in her one-woman show Arabitch. As a British Iraqi Sara finds herself in a liminal place: too Arab to be seen as queer, and too queer to be seen as Arab. To help her navigate these intersectional identities Sara has created a series of alter egos.
The first is the drag queen Arabitch. Sara knows that some people, weaned on such shows as Drag Race, may find it odd that a woman can perform as a drag queen. But drag queens come in all genders now, as performers seek to expose how femininity and masculinity are social constructs. For Sara, her drag queen persona is perfect for examining the camp aesthetic of femininity that exists in some Arab cultures. Another person Sara will be channelling is Abu Nuwas, a 9th Century Arab poet, whose homoerotic verse was often ignored, but who proves that you can be both queer and Arab, and this is one of the key messages of Sara’s show.
Another poet – this time contemporary – brings their work to This Queer House, a piece by the OPIA collective. Poet Oakley Flanagan has written a script in which a lesbian (Leah) and a non-binary person (Oli) move into a house together. Director Masha Kevinovna explains that the house is a metaphor for heteronormative society, which expels the queer, and so the house in the show, inherited by Oli, does its utmost to reject the newcomers. Part Gothic horror and part experimental Oakley’s text acts as a blueprint for the designs of the other members of the collective.
Each OPIA member has their own role to play: Masha directs; Ben Ramsden has created the sound design; Gregory Jordan provides the lights and Cara Evans the set design. This Queer House plays in the Network Theatre, this most traditional of all the VAULT venues, and it perhaps tradition that OPIA wants to interrogate. As gay men and lesbians are assimilated into society through marriage, trans and non-binary people are further marginalised. In Oakley’s play we see Leah working with the house to eject the non-binary Oli. It all leads to an explosive finale.
Also playing at the Network Theatre is Robert Holtom’s play Dumbledore Is So Gay, a coming-of-age drama about Jack, a Harry Potter obsessive. He’s in love with his best friend Ollie, but he’s not quite sure if the love is reciprocated. But if Jack ever makes a wrong move he can use his Time Turner, and replay that part of his life. Surely, if he goes back in time enough he’ll get the happy ending he deserves? While most of the show is funny, Robert confirms that there are some darker elements to it too.
Dumbledore Is So Gay features some familiar names. The director is Tom Wright whose own play Undetectable is currently playing at The King’s Head Theatre, and this show at the VAULT Festival is their first collaboration. Of the cast, Charlotte Dowding has had a busy few weeks, already appearing in Splintered, at VAULT too, about queer women in Trinidad and Tobago. Robert has quite a team around him. He also says that while some knowledge of Harry Potter could be useful to get all the references in his play, having no knowledge of the books or the films shouldn’t spoil one’s enjoyment of this poignant show.
It sounds like another great week, down under the tunnels of Waterloo. Some queer politics, some queer goings-on in a house, and a little bit of magic too.
Arabitch, This Queer House and Dumbledore Is So Gay run until 1 March 2020