It’s been a rollercoaster of variety already: funny, serious, questioning, confrontational… Here’s what I’ve got up to at this year’s Queer Contact so far.
Life’s A Drag is a piece by artist Jez Dolan looking at Manchester’s drag history, and present day, and these live performances represent the first fruits of an ongoing project. Written with playwright Chris Hoyle, Life’s a Drag is a meta-comedy where we see two drag queens preparing backstage for a show. While they bitch, kvetch, laugh and take us on a journey back in time via the make-up box, they teach one another about the relevance of their own particular school of drag and gayness, from Polari to RuPaul. We encounter legends and legendary nights out, from Foo Foo Lamaar to the Hulme drag ball, and it’s all done with such a light touch that it feels like a genuine eavesdrop, even as they kick down the fourth wall with heels. There’s a superbly moving moment with a pair of earrings that crystallises what the piece is about for me, plus an astonishingly good musical medley at the end, sung across the decades, but no spoilers as to the songs…
FAdoubleGOT and The Daily Grind worked well on the same bill. The former is Jamal Gerald’s very personal story, encompassing bullying, education, a second-generation immigrant experience, youth, sexuality and life in a Northern town. Using monologue, symbolism, music and pop culture, it’s performed with a charming combination of earnestness and sass that perhaps even its very young creator isn’t fully aware of. He’s also a terrific poet and his verse threads neatly through the piece as he goes. The Daily Grind is the work of a slightly older, very serious theatre maker, all about life on dating apps. Don’t be surprised if you feel vulnerable and discomfited as much as moved to laughter. The dissonance of the performance comes from its single performer and writer, Laurie Brown, flitting between friendly, camp, menacing and monstrous. For anyone in the know it mirrors convincingly the Jekyll and Hyde nature of online encounters. The last five minutes of the show were a borderline genius move.
A personal highlight so far has been Outspoken, the poetry and spoken word event. A real triumph of curating, the breadth of writing styles and extremely high standard of performance, not to mention the content which ran from surreal to sad to hilarious to too-damn-true, made for a really inspirational evening. Such a treat to see Jackie Kay perform, and a first real life encounter too with my online favourite, poet AJ McKenna. Also introduced me to astonishing work from Paula Varjack and Keith Jarrett too. Seek them out.
Another personal favourite was STUD, a bizarre and hilarious journey through masculinity and the world of horses (yes, horses). Created and performed by a truly confident and accomplished performer, like no other show on the bill the audience were in this performer’s hands from the opening seconds. It’s hard to even describe the show or why it works so well, suffice to say after twenty minutes you stop even noticing the glorious pubic bush that’s constantly on show. It’s a piece that gently terrorises gender, with a handsaw, a raw carrot, whatever comes to hand or hoof. Eilidh McAskill, I salute you.
Still to come for me: Our Lady J, which will be a Valentine musical weekend sensation, and a religious experience in the shape of Jesus Queen of Heaven, on a Sunday of course… Full line up is here, and check out the pics from my own Queer Contact event right here. See you soon…!