Paul T Davies looks at LGBTQ+ theatre in the UK and selects his highlights for 2019.
Looking over my LGBTQ+ reviews of the year, it remains true that, without plays like Angels in America and The Inheritance being huge hits in the West End and Broadway, most LBGTQ+ theatre still happens on the Fringe circuit. It is exciting discovering a gem of a play in smaller venues, and I am aware that, in different ways, my selection is quite politically charged. But this reflects the times, our questioning, our challenging and our entertaining stages. As a gay man, perhaps inevitably, the choice reflects my sexuality- but I missed a lot of the L and the B and the T in Edinburgh mainly due to time constraints and clashes! Here’s my top picks of 2019.
1. The View Upstairs – Soho Theatre
It was always going to top this list, and it made it easily into my top ten of the year overall. If I had been a young man struggling with my sexuality, this loud, proud and politically charged musical would have brought me crashing out of the closet. I’ll say it again; this isn’t just theatre, its activism!
2. Burgerz – Edinburgh Festival Fringe
When someone threw a burger at Travis Alabanza and called them a tranny, it led to a thought process about how burgers are made, their construction and components. The result was Travis’s superb show, creating a duet with a cis male from the audience. Thoughtful, funny and, once the burger was complete, ending with a moving interaction with the audience.
3. Fat Blokes – Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Although I first saw the show at the end of 2018, Scottee revived his superb dance theatre at Edinburgh this year, confirming it as an important piece about body image, reclaiming your identity, class and sexiness. It remains a vital piece, and, together with his 2019 show, Class, he challenged us to face our own infernally absorbed prejudices.
4. Land Of My Fathers, Mothers and Other People – Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Of course, this is a personal choice, and nothing comes more personal than Rhys Slade-Jones’ autobiographical gem about his family history, growing up gay in the Welsh Valleys and how his community has been ravaged by austerity. Transporting the audience to Treherbert Rugby Club, it was an hour of tears of laughter and sadness with a master storyteller.
5. Gently Down The Stream – Park Theatre
Dovetailing my top five nicely is Martin Sherman’s beautiful cross-generational play that used a gay relationship to explore years of gay history, with a wonderful central performance by Jonathan Hyde. It was where I first heard of the arson attack on the Upstairs Bar, which made me determined to see The View Upstairs.