Writer: Oakley Flanagan
Director: Masha Kevinovna
With so many shows at the VAULT Festival this year, there’s always going to be discrepancies in quality, despite ambition and enthusiasm. Some shows such as Sticky Door, Zoo, Dumbledore Is So Gay and First Time are polished and are ready for longer lives. Some, like the absurd Gothic horror This Queer House, need more work.
The Gothic is often home to the queer. The Yellow Wallpaper harbours lesbian desire while Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde examines homosocial and homosexual relations between the all male protagonists. Dracula proclaims that Jonathan Harker is his and we can only guess what immoral urges lead Dorian Gray to London’s East End. And so the premise of Oakley Flanagan’s play holds promise: a house tries to expel its new queer residents.
It starts well, with lesbian Leah and non-binary Oli moving into a property that was left to Oli through their dead name. The house needs a lot of work: Leah hires a builder, and then gets a rescue dog. But soon the play takes an absurdist turn and the narrative all but disappears as it becomes mixed with fairy stories. It soon is incomprehensible. This Queer House is better when it’s played…er…straight.
While Opia Collective may know what they are doing, the audience can only hazard a guess, but only if it cared. The scene where Humaira Iqbal and Lucia Young play little girls sneaking into the house is tiresome beyond belief. Soon boxes are brought in and out, scrunches of newspapers are tossed along the stage, and feathers are thrown about, but all for inexplicable reasons.
Only Liv Ello as Oli comes out of this unscathed, as their character remains unchanged throughout: maybe this is the point, but that could be grasping at straws, trying to make sense of this rambling, disjointed exploration of gender and tradition.
Like Oli’s house, this play needs a lot more work. There are foundations here, for sure, but it might be worth knocking down the walls and starting again.
Runs until 1 March 2020