The Oberon Book of Queer Monologues.
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How do you collate a century of monologues reflecting the lives and experiences of Queer people? Well, you get queer artist Scottee, currently creating excellent work about body shaming in the gay community, to curate the book. I am vastly impressed by the range of work Scottee has brought together, introducing me, whose PhD was about AIDS, Queer Theory and Theatrical Discourses, to work and playwrights I was unaware of. It’s a thoughtful and entertaining collection, and like all good monologue books, it should send the curious reader in further directions to explore more.
There are writers and plays that I would expect to see in a volume of this nature, Tony Kushner, Joe Orton, Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Daniels, and Mae West. But the strength is in the surprising, the unknown, and Scottee has ensured that the L the B and the T has not been overlooked in this collection. I was particularly impressed with, from 1916, Angela Weld Grimke’s Rachel, which was the first play by a black woman produced professionally, and she was a figurehead of the Harlem Renaissance. Whilst not about queerness as such, it’s a beautiful and powerful story about race and womanhood. I loved Brian Lobel’s BALL, a humorous and frank account of visiting a sperm bank following the removal of a cancerous testicle, and Moj of the Antarctic by Mojisola Adebayo (2006), is an extraordinary performance poem of escape about an enslaved woman who cross dresses as a white man to escape slavery.
It becomes even more enjoyable when we reach the recent and contemporary theatre. Some gems from the Fringe and outskirts of mainstream theatre are preserved, and as I was lucky to see some, those voices heard in my head again. Lucy L. Skilbeck’s captivating JOAN, with a drag king performing Joan of Arc, Neil Bartlett’s fragile and beautiful Stella, Paddy Cash’s outstanding HIV Monologues, and Jo Clifford’s extraordinary Eve, her autobiographical play that made me realise how important trans rights are. But also work and artists that I need to keep an eye out for- Jamal Gerald, Travis Alabanza, Jonny Woo to name but a few.
Hopefully, theatre and performance is moving to a clearer and stronger diversity and inclusivity, and the struggle of queer people over a century is well documented here. Actors and readers should come to this book ready to be armed and enthused with diversity, representation and, above all, pride. The book feels like an essential tool kit for anyone making their own queer work or seeking out queer performance. For all of us, it’s probably best summed up by the conclusion of Penny Arcade’s legendary Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! :
“You should love someone, and you should let someone love you back. It’s the most political act to make. It’s the only thing that really changes the world.”
I can’t recommend this book enough.