9 posts categorized "LGBTQ+" Feed

Review: George, Omnibus Theatre - gender identity in the 19th century

George Omnibus Theatre

REVIEW: George Sand (Léa des Garets), a successful French novelist, has writer's block. It's 1839, and she's both lauded by the press for her work and pilloried for her lifestyle choices. She likes to wear men's suits and has many lovers.

Strapped for cash, she's asked to write a play, so she creates a story about a woman raised as a man called Gabriel by her Grandfather in an attempt to avoid an inheritance going to a distant male relative.

Léa des Garet's play is inspired by the real George Sand, a French writer who sold more books than her male contemporaries, Victor Hugo and Honoré Balzac. She also lived a life that challenged the prescribed norms of French society.

George, the play, has parallel narratives: George, under pressure, writing the play with the help of her actress lover Marie (Iniki Mariano) and Gabriel's story, learning the truth about her upbringing and how she subsequently wants to live her life.

They weave together seamlessly. Léa des Garets also plays Gabriel, and Iniki Mariano takes on the role of Gabriel's male cousin.

Both reflect the prejudices of society towards gender and identity and the hypocrisy at play, particularly when it comes to money. George supports her husband financially, yet she isn't afforded the same rights he has as a man.

A backlash from her agent about Gabriel's ending exposes these prejudices further, and George has to decide whether to compromise what she wants the play to say or consign her work to a draw.

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Interview: Actor & writer Léa des Garets talks about her new play George and LGBTQ+ representation in theatre

Lea des Garets - press shot
Actor & writer Lea des Garets

Léa des Garets is a queer award-winning actor, writer and theatre-maker from France. Through her company MQT Productions, Léa aims to give more visibility to hidden voices from the past and the present, focusing particularly on international voices, female-led narratives and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Here, she talks to me about George, her new play, which opens at the Omnibus Theatre later this month, playing a writer writing a play and LGBTQ+ representation in theatre. (Scroll to the end for the video)

George is inspired by the story of queer French author George Sand. How did you discover her, and what made you want to write the play?

So I am French, and George Sand is quite well known in France, but in a very limited way. Although she sold more books than Victor Hugo and Honoré Balzac in her time, she isn't nearly as well known as they are today.

At school, I had only studied two of her works, so I wasn't drawn to her literary works. But what I did know was that she dressed as a man, she used a male pen name and allegedly had many lovers.

I had this sense that she was a free woman or expressed her gender in whatever way she wanted, and she was still really, really successful in 19th-century France.

In 2019, I was really exploring my own queerness and craving for figures, not only to study but also to potentially embody as an actor, and I re-stumbled upon her.

In spite of all the press slandering, she still fought for equality and went against the norms, not only in what she represented but also in what she was saying. She really has something to say to our time, so I needed to write about her. And how amazing would it be to play her?

You play George and wrote the play, how does being the playwright inform your performance process, particularly as George in the play is a writer?

I had this image of three circles, there was my world, Léa the writer, and her world, George Sand the writer and the work that she is writing in George the play, which is her play Gabriel.

So much of the writing process of George is included in the play itself. There was a lot of bouncing off ideas with loved ones who are in the industry and who aren't, as well as brainstorming. There was some getting up in the middle of the night to write and also not commanding inspiration but having things come at you from the outside.

But then there is also the tunnel vision for something that you end up being so incredibly passionate about. I really found and experienced that, and I know what it feels like to hold on to what you believe in.

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Review: GRILLS, Camden People's Theatre - a fun play with a powerful roar

L-R Olivia Dowd Ishmael Kirby Jaye Hudson India JJ - credit Harry Elletson
L-R Olivia Dowd, Ishmael Kirby, Jaye Hudson and India JJ. Photo: Harry Elletson


GRILLS at the Camden People's Theatre is set in two time periods and two places connected by the queer experience and history.

Four modern self-professed queer nerds - Vall, Bee, Jaz and Mo - are visiting the Glasgow Women's Library, which is where the archive from the Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group is now kept. 

The CLC and BLG joined forces in the 1980s, and we are transported back to life in their centre through their discoveries while rifling through the archive.

There are revealing snippets from documented phone calls the centre received, which paint a picture of the work the centre did to support queer people. It is a place which created community, support and camaraderie in the face of prejudice and abuse. 

The documents also expose the challenges the centre faced from the politics of the day. Conservative Party rhetoric stoked homophobia, and Section 28 decimated funding for the centre, which was eventually forced to close. Attitudes towards transwomen are also revealed through the internal politics.


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Review: The Beach House, Park Theatre - female relationships in the spotlight

Gemma Lawrence and Kathryn Bond in The Beach House, Park Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

They say moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. What happens when you move to your dream beachfront home that is 'in need of renovation', you have a baby on the way, and your relationship is evolving fast?

Add a flighty sister, and you've got the premise for Jo Harper's new play, The Beach House at the Park Theatre.

Couple Liv (Gemma Lawrence) and Kate (Kathryn Bond) have much to be excited about in this new chapter of their relationship. It's a shame then that Kate has a strained relationship with her younger sibling Jenny (Gemma Barnett).

The latter's life lacks the stability of her sister's. Jenny's chosen career is as a dancer, which means stints working away at a circus or on a cruise, and her relationship with her boyfriend is in choppy water.

Deep down, does Jenny want to be like her stable sister, or does she want what her sister has?

But Liv and Kate's relationship isn't as plain sailing as it might initially appear.

Kate is in a rush to return to work after their daughter is born, and Liv, when not looking after the baby, takes sanctuary in a glass or two of wine.

Jenny and Liv are increasingly pushed together as Kate doubles down on her work and career.

The stage contains little more than a wooden storage chest into which clothing and baby items are regularly tidied and occasionally a box, bucket or pouffe.

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Review: Linck & Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre - witty, effervescent and heartbreaking

Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn_ Credit Helen Murray_53
Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn, Hampstead Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: Helen Murray

Writer Ruby Thomas was in the British Library when she came across a reference Linck and Mulhahn, a same-sex couple in 18th Century Prussia who'd been living as husband and wife.

Using what information she could find as starting point and imagining the rest, Thomas has written a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play about their relationship, secret life and the subsequent outing.

It starts with Linck (Maggie Bain) living as a man - Anastasius - so they can be a soldier and Catharina Mulhahn (Helena Wilson) fighting her mother's attempts to match her with a suitable husband.

Anastasius is a skilled soldier and well-respected. Catharina is rebellious, constantly pushing against the boundaries society places on her sex. A chance encounter at a dressmakers shop sees the two verbally sparring; they fizzle and spark in each other's company.

There is an honesty in their biting, yet playful, exchanges that ignites something. When Catharina, with typical forwardness, proposes marriage Anastasius has to reveal that they aren't all they seem.

But Catharina is undeterred, and the two marry and set up a home together. Anastasius, who has now left the army, works as a dressmaker's apprentice and encourages Catharina to write.

It is a blissful existence built on a foundation of love and equality until Catharina's bored mother starts to dig into her 'son'-in-law's past.

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Theatre best of: Stan's top 10 plays 0f 2022

Best of theatre 2022
This feels like a moment; I haven't been able to do a best-of theatre list since 2019 because of 'you know what'. It's been huge fun revisiting the plays I've seen - nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, but here goes.

1. The Collaboration, Young Vic

Synopsis in a sentence: Andy Warhol's star is waning, and young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat's star is rising; they have nothing in common but are persuaded to collaborate.

From my review: "I was gripped in the presence of two great artists and gripped by their stories. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, and if I felt compelled to tap my toes at the start, by the end, I was on my feet, and that's something I rarely do."

The play is now on Broadway, and look out for a film version (an actual film, not a filmed stage version).

2. Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Synopsis in a sentence: The wayward Prince becomes King and has to prove himself to his country and foreign powers.

Not going to lie, Kit Harington surprised me with his performance in this.

From my review: "This is a powerful production of Henry V. Harington's nuanced, often quiet and considered Henry V perfectly highlights the complexity and often contradictory nature of the character and the role of leadership.

3. The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A woman has a final phone call with her lover, who is getting married the next day.

From my review: "It hasn't gone down well with all the critics, but I thought it was mesmerising and gripping. Hats off to Ruth Wilson."

4. Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A lesbian choir get a coveted spot on the main stage at Pride, mainly because they are the only lesbian choir to apply.

From my review: "It is a funny, interesting and occasionally challenging play that had me walking out of the theatre with a big grin on my face. And that is a big win."

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Review: The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre - fun, flirtation and representation

The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs is one of those plays that unashamedly bursts off the stage, much like the lesbian choir around which the story revolves.

1. The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs_Production_Helen Murray
The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre, May 2022. Photo: Helen Murray

Fed up with being invisible, Connie (Shuna Show) puts the choir forward for an audition to perform on the main stage at Pride. They stand a good chance of landing the gig as there are no other lesbian choirs and the organisers of Pride want more lesbians on the bill.

The choir practice is full of banter, flirting and drama (and a bit of singing), but it's a safe, inclusive and supportive space. Until a badly thought through T-shirt slogan threatens to tear the happy band apart.

And that's what makes Iman Qureshi's The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs a potent piece of theatre. It is witty, laugh out loud, funny and warm, but at the same time doesn't shy away from more serious themes.

Not all in the choir are out or can be out for cultural or religious reasons. The play also presents the harsh reality of prejudice which can turn violent.

There is also debate around exclusive vs shared spaces and what that means for trans women. And the lack of lesbian representation and spaces where they can safely meet up, have fun and flirt.

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Review: Overflow, live stream via Bush Theatre - toilet drama makes for clever and powerful storytelling

Travis Alabanza's play Overflow is set in the toilet of a club from where transgirl Rosie (Reece Lyons) has locked herself in.

Overflow bush theatre reece lyon
Overflow, Bush Theatre. Photography by Elise Rose. Art direction by Mia Maxwell

She talks about the power of a 'pre-emptive pee' but it isn't just about being organised enough to empty your bladder knowing the facilities, later on, will be less than ideal for a comfort break.

As she talks there is the possibility that she might want to avoid public toilets for reasons other than queues and cleanliness.

The toilet setting is the literal backdrop for stories of her past experiences from primary school to more recent club visits but each is revealing, peppered with revelations about life as a transgirl, how friends and society views her.

At first, the club toilet experience is about acceptance and friendly camaraderie where the girls bolster each other with compliments and rally to help out when one of them is in need.

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Review: Rotterdam returns and is still packing the laughs and emotional punches, Arts Theatre

Rotterdam - 59E59 Theater - 2017 - Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine Freeman - photo by Hunter Canning
Rotterdam - Alice McCarthy, Anna Martine Freeman and Ed Eales-White, photo by Hunter Canning

There is a scene in Jon Brittain's Rotterdam when Fiona (Anna Martine Freeman) is on the telephone to her parents. It is New Year's Eve and she is telling them she thinks she's a man. You can't hear what her parents (and grandma) are saying but it is written and performed in a way that you can easily imagine. It is a brilliantly observed - there are aspects of the conversation many people will relate to - and imagined. It is a scene that is funny and tender, it makes you laugh and puts a lump in your throat. And that is everything that is brilliant about Rotterdam as a play in that moment.

It is a play that started life in pub theatre and is now on it's third London transfer (via a stint off-Broadway) and tells the story of lesbian couple Alice (Alice McCarthy) and Fiona who've been together for seven years, living as ex-pats in Rotterdam. We join them the day before New Year's Eve as Alice is plucking up the courage to come out to her parents but Fiona has her own announcement to make. It is reflective of their personalities that while Alice, dithers and over-thinks Fiona blurts and moves forward at a pace like champagne leaving a shaken bottle.

Fiona's brother Josh (Ed Bales-White), who also lives in Rotterdam, takes her decision in his stride and her conversation with her parents is easier than she anticipates, getting accepted as a man and the impact on her relationship with Alice - and how it makes Alice feel about her own sexuality - is less straightforward.

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