PHOEBE GARTHWAITE reviews UCL Drama Society’s LGBT+ showcase at the Bloomsbury Studio.

UCL Drama Society’s LGBT+ showcase was their first this year, a slickly run evening carefully curated by executive producers Srishti Chakraborty and Ashley Hayward and executive director Joey Jepps. The theme is an ambitious one, since each letter of the LGBT+ acronym could easily have its own showcase. With seven very different short pieces, the showcase successfully gave the voices that are so often sidelined by a hetero-dominated theatrical landscape the gravitas and stage time they need and deserve.

The showcase was performed in the Bloomsbury Studio on a thrust stage, with the audience wrapped around the action, creating an intimate atmosphere. This staging enhanced the quiet and tender moments, especially in the monologues, which were selected from Mark Gatiss’s collection Queers. In The Man On The Platform, for example, directed by Hyunsoo Kim and Srishti Chakraborty, Daniel Catarino Da Silva stood frozen centre stage as he, a World War One stretcher bearer, described the first time he set eyes on a military general and was instantly enthralled by his captivating long blonde eyelashes as they caught the light. Da Silva caught the tenderness of the monologue, perfectly recreating the familiar feeling of falling in love for the first time. It felt important to start the show with a piece touching on the beauty of human connections and purity of love, even when taboo. Set in 1917, the monologue ended with the general delicately cupping the soldier’s face under the cover of darkness through the window of the train that tears them apart from each other.

This concept of the forbidden touch was also played upon in the final monologue, Something Borrowed. Jayne Wong played a bubbly bride-to-be almost exactly 100 years later. Wong’s confidence and conviction in talking about her fiancé and future as a gay woman felt so distant from the secrecy surrounding the soldiers love. Sadly though, the two characters found parallels in their everyday fears. In symmetry with the tender touch on the train platform, Wong’s character flinchingly resisted her partner’s desire to hold her hand in their local supermarket. The same fear of judgement and discrimination holds them back. The reality is clear: in 1917 and 2017 the legalities and social climate may be different but fear always feels the same.

While the evening centred around love and hope, the hateful pressures of homophobia were also explored. The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordam, directed by Pihla Pekkarinen, was sharp and powerful. A gay 80-year-old widower (Agnes Carrington-Windo), a middle-class mother from the home counties (Isabella Gibb) and a vibrant young student (Julieta Macome) find themselves united by chance on the dance floor of the club. Pekkarinen kept the piece high-energy from the start. The three characters’ entertaining journeys to the club were recounted as intertwining monologues; the actors moved seamlessly around each other and the space as the audience got snapshots into their stories. Todd’s comical writing made the audience fall instantly in love with Carrington-Windo’s pensioner, floating gracefully around in her old wedding dress laughing at her conservative life as she puts on a gay pride flag and vows to be spontaneous and go clubbing. We were swept up in the joyful party atmosphere, the vivacious energy of the actors, the pumping music and multi-coloured lights. The blackout, piercing gunshots and screaming came out of nowhere, as did the gunman that night in Orlando. The actors fell to the floor like ragdolls and the audience was left staring at lifeless corpses. The sharp ending to the play left faces tear-stained as the lights came up and next monologue began. We all know about gun laws in the US and feel despair at yet another BBC News notification on our phone screen, but The Nightclub pushed the devastating reality of hate crimes in our faces and turned those statistics into tangible experience.

The stand out performance of the night was Jade Armstrong in Jackie Clune’s monologue, The Perfect Gentleman. Armstrong, dressed in a full suit, played Bobby, a big ladies’ man. Set in 1929 and living life in secret as a trans man Armstrong effortlessly captured Bobby’s yearning to live and be as a man. Commanding the audience’s attention while sitting stoically at a desk Armstrong delivered the piece at first as a confession; Bobby divulged his escapades with women on street corners and relived the satisfaction of bringing his lovers to orgasm (a talent that he gained a reputation for). While Armstrong wittily tells these anecdotes as mischievous tales of debauchery, the evident thrill of living as a man brings with it a sense of calm. Bobby is simply living his own life and poignantly finds acceptance and clarity in telling his story in his own terms. This was an empowering theme throughout evening: the LGBT+ voices shamelessly embracing their identity despite the judgment thrust onto them by others.

The choice and running order of monologues and short plays served to take the audience on a journey, from the uncontrollable joy of falling in love to the pain that hatred has inflicted on the community. Within such a broad and rich subject, at times contrasting the pieces felt overwhelming and a little content heavy. However, the evening was thoroughly engaging and, with more than twenty-five people involved in the showcase, it set the tone for this academic year – one of togetherness, diversity and high-quality theatre.

The LGBT+ Showcase ran from 26-27th October at Bloomsbury StudioFind more information here.

Featured image courtesy of Dione Lemoni.