Last week Stuart and I joined the Islington's Pride Clerkenwell LGBT Walk starting in glitzy Barbican and ending in glitzy Angel.
Islington has always been highly influential in the growth of the UK LGBT+ community, its organisation and rights through the 20th and 21st century. And this was the third – and probably most interesting such Pride walk we had undertaken in the area.
The walk celebrated some of the many Islington LGBT firsts – from Chris Smith, the UK’s first openly gay Member of Parliament for Islington South & Finsbury in 1984 to the UK’s first legal afterhours club Trade which opened in Clerkenwell in 1990. As well as dance, music, clubs and pubs the walk explored many of the poignant, funny and brave stories of life and activism recorded by the Islington’s Pride project.
The walk was led by the lovely Susan, a guide from Islington Guided Walks (the Mayor of Islington’s official tour guides) and had been created in partnership with and funded by Islington’s Pride.
First stop was the location of "gay girl" dance venue French Kiss. Now defunct, the venue had a reputation for good facilities, reasonable prices and great dance music. It was a hard-earned reputation mind you - with the promoter saying, with some humour, "it had to good - lesbians are harder to please!"
We then moved on to Charterhouse where nonagenarian Stanley Underhill finally felt he could come out at the grand old age of 92. Stanley had lived an oppressive life of abuse and corrective therapy as documented in his autobiography "Coming Out of the Black Country". Towards the end of his book, he quotes the advice that Polonius offers to his son, Laertes, in Shakespeare s Hamlet: "above all, to thine own self be true." Brave man.
Also in Charterhouse was the Records Office where John Vassall worked. 57 years ago civil servant Vassall was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for espionage as a Soviet spy. Vassal claimed he had been blackmailed after in 1954, he was invited to a party in Moscow, where he was encouraged to become extremely drunk, and where he was photographed in compromising positions with several men. Gay sex spy shocker!
Just round the corner, we stood outside the old London Lesbian and Gay Centre at 67–69 Cowcross Street. The LLGC had hosted hundreds of events over the years. For example, in June 1985, London's Lesbian Strength march ended at the centre for the first time and a week later a special all-day event for the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade was held. The discussion/support group 'New Beginnings' also met at 8 pm on Saturday nights at The Centre in the mid – late 1980s. This group was facilitated by a volunteer couple (John and Terry) and approximately 20 people who were in the early stages of 'coming out' attended each week. Participants would start with a discussion upstairs, and then come back downstairs for a drink at the bar.
We then moved around the corner again on to Turnmills - where Trade started life in 1990. We heard and shared(!) lots of stories of the late opening hours, the length of the queue, the door policy, ‘muscle alley’, the drugs table, and the hard house music policy.
Just up the road was the bookish Free Word Centre in Farringdon Road with its wide range of LGBTQ+ written-word and live events.
Round still another corner from there was the London Metropolitan Archives. LMA is the principal local government archive repository for the Greater London area, including the City of London: it is the largest county record office in the United Kingdom and contains an LGBT history archive and hosts regular LGBT events.
We then headed up the road to Finsbury Town Hall. There we heard about Chris Smith who was the UK’s first openly gay Member of Parliament when he came out in 1984. He was the standing member for Islington South & Finsbury at the time. Later he said he was HIV positive.
Another famous LGBT Islington political figure was Bob Crossman - the UK's first gay major who served from 1986-87.
We then moved up Rosebery Avenue to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre where many notable LGBT performers have taken to the stage. Matthew Bourne has achieved international recognition from there and Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes was first performed at Sadler's Wells in London on 7th June 1945.
Up the road still further, we stood outside the old public house Crown And Woolpack where gay girls danced the night away in the 1970s.
Across in City Road at number 378 we were told of the extraordinary life (and death) of a human rights lawyer David Burgess. Burgess co-founded the legal-aid firm Winstanley Burgess which was one of the country's most respected asylum and immigration law practices. Only Burgess had another life too. Burgess was also Sonia. Sadly Sonia died after being pushed under an eastbound Piccadilly Line train at Kings Cross station by a female companion in 2010.
We then headed to the old Fallen Angel. A central hub of LGBT Islington social activity in the 1980s. A cafe, a bar, a vegetarian place to eat.
Like many LGBT venues The Fallen Angel had its story to tell. At one point in 1988 the managers/operators introduced a women-only night – for reasons that most thought were fairly self-evident. But this was not to be; a member or members of the gay brotherhood took the pub to court on the grounds that it was acting in a discriminatory manner. The court upheld the complaint and the pub was forced to drop the plan. Of course not all gay men were happy with the decision: some took it upon themselves to stand outside the pub on the designated women’s night and attempt to dissuade other men from going in. As to the measure of success they had, who knows. But if there were gay men who were happy to take the issue to court, there would be others who would make a point of seeking admission as a matter of some misguided principle.
The final stop on the tour was playwright Joe Orton's flat where on 9th August 1967 he was struck nine times with a hammer by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. After killing Orton, Halliwell then took a lethal overdose of Nembutal.
From January 1959, the pair had begun to surreptitiously remove books from several local public libraries and modify the cover art or the blurbs before returning them to the shelves. A volume of poems by John Betjeman, for example, was returned to the library with a new dustjacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, heavily tattooed, middle-aged man. The couple decorated their flat with many of the prints. They were eventually discovered and prosecuted in May 1962. They were found guilty on five counts of theft and malicious damage, admitted damaging more than 70 books, and were sentenced to prison for six months (released September 1962) and fined £262. The incident was reported in the Daily Mirror as "Gorilla in the Roses".
Orton and Halliwell felt that that sentence was unduly harsh "because we were queers". However, prison was a crucial formative experience for Orton; the isolation from Halliwell allowed him to break free of him creatively; and he clearly saw what he considered the corruption, priggishness, and double standards of a purportedly liberal country. As Orton put it: "It affected my attitude towards society. Before I had been vaguely conscious of something rotten somewhere, prison crystallised this. The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul.... Being in the nick brought detachment to my writing. I wasn't involved any more. And suddenly it worked." The book covers that Orton and Halliwell vandalised have since become a valued part of the Islington Local History Centre collection. Some are exhibited in the Islington Museum.
Despite being a successful writer, Orton delighted in creating the alter ego Edna Welthorpe, an elderly theatre snob, whom he used to stir controversy over his own plays. The wag!
So, it was a suitably satisfying end to a wonderful walking tour. Top marks to Susan and to Islington’s Pride. Informative, moving, and funny.
Islington’s Pride is run by Islington Heritage who have received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an archive focusing on the borough’s LGBT+ heritage. Islington’s Pride will create a dedicated archive, educational resources a digital landscape as well as commission events such as this walk.
I hope there will be lasting legacy of all this sterling effort. Partially funded walks, self-guided walks, or a smart-phone app with rainbow lampposts as stopping points perhaps.
Friday, March 29, 2019
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Big thanks to @JanetJanFoster of @Islingtonwalks & @IslingtonsPride for wonderful Islington's Pride guided walk through LGBTQ+ history of Kings Cross @IslingtonMuseum #queerhistory #Islington #LGBTHistory #LGBT
Hosted by the lovely Janet we took a tour of Kings Cross - stopping off to hear LGBTQ+ stories of the past and the present.
Islington has been highly influential in the growth of the LGBT+ community, its organisation and rights through the 20th and 21st century. Islington’s Pride walk around Kings Cross was about celebrating activism and community support from the setting up of London Switchboard in the 1970s through to current organisations such as Say it Loud and Gendered Intelligence.
During the tour, we got to relive the heady days of the Scala cinema movie nights and The Bell Pub. The walk finished at Central Station pub who have supported every spectrum of LGBTQ+ society from SM Dykes to the Gay Christian movement since the early 1990s. We 'met' journalists along the way and Derek Jarman, the Kings Cross Steelers and Grace’s cricket group.
The walk started under the clock at Kings Cross Station but soon moved to Regent’s Quarter with its association with Pentonville - the prison where Oscar Wilde was first incarcerated before being moved to Reading Gaol. This was of course after his conviction following the famous accusation of "posing as a sodomite."
We then moved on to Houseman bookshop in Caledonian Road with its wide range of radical books, events, and support of progressive politics. Gay Switchboard started life in the basement and then expanded to the two upper floors before relocating to new offices nearby.
We then stopped off outside the Scala where we heard outrageous stories of the LGBT and queer trashy all-nighters held there in the 1980s. Music, porn, dancing, drinking, Jayne County, Lily Savage, the New Depression, and all manner of trash. Needless to say I had a few stories of my own to add!
Next up was The Bell - a place where I all but lived for 5 years. We got to hear about Movements disco, the door policy, the dancing, the safe space, the heady mix of optimism, charity, respect and decadence.
After that we moved on to two other buildings that house Gendered Intelligence - the organisation that supports trans people - and Say it Loud - the organisation with its roots in Notting Hill that support LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.
We then walked past the place where, until recently, Oscar's Cinema used to be. Famous for its hard-core gay porn it was only closed down six years ago after complaints from neighbours. Gentrification in action, folks!
Nearby was charity London Friend. Established in 1972, it was the first LGBT organisation to get a Government grant. It still does amazing work today supporting the health and mental well-being of the LGB&T community in and around London.
The penultimate stop was outside the new Guardian offices. A number of journalists were mentioned, not least Oscar Moore and his PWA (Person With Aids) column documenting his weekly unflinching coverage of his illnesses and suffering, including that of losing his sight.
Finally we reached Central Station - the place of so many stories - the fun, the laughter, the meeting place of so LGBT sports clubs, societies, and 'special interest' groups(!)
Janet has a first class host for the walk adding many personal anecdotes and encouraged us to share our own.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
With poetic precision, rich humour and an extraordinary emotional force, Betrayal charts a compelling seven-year love-triangle, thrillingly captured in reverse chronological order. Described as the greatest, and the most moving, of all Pinter’s plays, this production marks the culmination of the Jamie Lloyd Company’s ground-breaking Pinter at the Pinter season.
Played largely as a three-hander we have Golden Globe and Olivier Award winner Tom Hiddleston (Robert) starring alongside the wonderful Zawe Ashton (Emma) and the super-sexy powerhouse actor that is Charlie Cox (Jerry).
Of the three, it is long-limbed Hiddleston that steals the show - dressed in a slim-fit suit, he’s the epitome of stiff-upper-lipped intelligentsia. When he first discovers the affair as the wronged husband, he sidelines the secret with silent, streaming tears. A stunning display of inner turmoil.
But it is an inner turmoil that has to find expression. Hiddleston's Robert is at his caustic, calculated best in the confrontation with supposed friend Jerry. "Have you read any good books lately?" He asks over lunch just days after the discovery that the affair has infact been going on for five years.
Instead of a catharsis, the exchange is a pressure chamber of politeness. Hiddleston is hilarious, making blithe remarks about the state of contemporary literature as he brutally stabs at his meal and knocks back glass after glass of Calvo Blanco, while Charlie Cox’s Jerry maintains his jovial self-denial with similar gusto.
A minimalist marble set is tinged peachy pink or flat grey depending on the lighting. Exchanges between any two characters are overlooked by the third, pacing the background. Concentric circles on the floor revolve as the phrases like 'one year earlier', 'two years earlier' are projected on stage.
Running time, 90 minutes with no interval, flies by.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see the latest incarnation of our favourite musical Hair at the New Wimbledon Theatre on the glitzy Wimbledon Broadway.
Starring muscled reality-TV 'stars' Jake Quickenden and Marcus Collins, and Hollyoaker Daisy Wood-Davis, this touring production has had a number of cast revisions since its inception a few years back. And sadly these revisions have been its downfall.
This production first started life at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester - and the show was a smash from the get-go. Yes, Hair has a great set of songs, but we were treated to inventive staging, and a great cast of actors/singers.
Whatsmore when it transferred to the Vaults in Waterloo later that same year it reached even greater heights - winning critical praise, public acclaim, and numerous awards. If anything, the small changes to the cast for the London transfer had improved things. The had show lost none of its punch.
So now we come to the touring production and its celebrity casting. Oh dear, oh dear. How can the same show, the same words, the same music, the same orchestrations, miss the mark so widely? Well, I can tell you how. It is the new cast. Only one person has survived the transfer from Vaults to the road and the show has completely lost its heart.
Yes, the new cast can sing. But it was as if the show was being sung at us and not performed for us. We were so disappointed.
My only hope is that the cast grow into their roles and we start to believe in them more.
Because we are going to see this touring production again. And again. And again. We are following it around the South East. And we can only hope we see Hair raising its game.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Friday, March 22, 2019
All About Eve "a plot that stuck to the film script like a stage-door limpet to a star. We liked it... But we didn't love it." ...
Starring Gillian Anderson as Margot Channing, Lily James as Eve Harrington, and directed by Belgian director Ivo van Hove the evening was everything we thought it would be - professionally produced with a full-on (if at times slightly muddled) multimedia staging, a perfect cast, great acting, and a plot that stuck to the film script like a stage-door limpet to a star. We liked it. We really did. But we didn't love it.
It begins, like the film, with the honey-voiced critic Addison DeWitt (Stanley Townsend), "as essential to the theatre as ants are to a picnic" setting the scene and telling us Eve has won a prize. Then, as the story unfolds backwards, Ivo van Hove reveals his brilliance at producing (over-producing?) West End plays with two hours of whirling scenes on and off stage, close camera work, special effects galore, and rapid costume and scenery changes. It was a heady mix of theatrical wizardry.
As the action gets going, we get to meet superfan Eve, in the glamorous shape of Lily James, lurking outside the theatre where Margo is performing. As Margo's friend Karen (Monica Dolan) ushers her inside, Jan Versweyveld's terracotta box of a set rises to reveal backstage clutter, a mirror with bright lights and huge portraits of Margo the star set against the brick walls.
Excellent though Anderson is as Margo, she never really finds a way to banish Bette Davis' shadow, despite a performance full of flickering nuance. Granted she manages to say more with a curled lip and a slight shift of her eyebrows than a film of her vomiting down the loo ever could, but her scripted putdowns, often delivered more in sorrow than anger, are punctuated with oft too ponderous pauses rather than as they should, with the vicious spitting of irate cornered cat.
It is also hard to accept Anderson as a fading beauty. She is just too damned pretty. True she invests Margo with a slow drawl and a pensive awareness of her own dispensability, but she's less of a testy termagant than Bette Davis and more like the vulnerable style of Tennessee Williams's Blanche Dubois (another role she took on recently and in that case bossed.)
That said, the casting of Anderson as Margo is one of the production's greatest strengths. She is simultaneously brittle and radiant, poised yet fragile.
The use of technology, though at times overwhelming, is admittedly sophisticated. At a celebrated Stork Club dinner party a ferocious encounter in the ladies' room between Eve and Karen, who is also the wife of a famous playwright, is projected on to a screen as it happens: at the same time, we see the subjects of their debate swilling champagne downstage. But there is a palpable irony to the fact that we are always conscious of watching a piece of director's theatre. This is very much van Hove's show, whereas All About Eve depicts a vanished theatrical world where sacred monsters like Margo Channing ruled the roost and the writer and director were seen as totally subservient.
Shining through all this technology though is Dolan. Her Karen as a woman who inadvertently sabotages both her friend's career and her own marriage, provides another reminder of what a great actor she is.
Lily James, though, is less compelling in the role of the manipulative, ambitious Eve. The production never really lets us get under her skin. Eve should drive the narrative, instead here she feels secondary - to Margo and the scenery. It is only really as the huge portraits of Margo get replaced with Eve that we feel she is taking over.
Soundracked by dreamy instrumental music with sound design by Tom Gibbons – and a couple of songs – courtesy of PJ Harvey, it feels reflective of and sympathetic to Margo and Eve discombobulation in an industry in which they are ultimately forced to fight bitterly for every step forwards
It is a good evening in the theatre, but some essential spark is missing. I will always remember Anderson as Margo, but I can't help longing for van Hove to give up on remaking movies and return to rethinking plays.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Tartuffe "subtly provocative but also downright, riotously entertaining too" @NationalTheatre #Tartuffe ...
Originally written in 1664 Tartuffe is a savage attack on the pious. And very funny it is too.
In fact, Tartuffe courted controversy from the get-go with the Archbishop of Paris issuing an edict threatening excommunication for anyone who watched, performed in, or even read the play. The Archbishop hated the fact that the play presented someone who was outwardly pious but fundamentally mercenary, lecherous and deceitful and who uses their profession of piety to prey on others. He seemed to object to the self-delusion and hypocrisy of the self-professed 'good'. I can't think why!
Cleverly rewritten and updated as Tartuffe The Imposter, the play see our eponymous anti-hero played by Denis O'Hare worm his way into the affection and Highgate home of head of the household Orgon (Kevin Doyle, yes, him off of Downton Abbey) and his aging mother Pernelle (Susan Engel).
Here our Tartuffe is not a total fraud though - but perhaps a genuine, streetwise shaman who is simply on the make. He plays up his piety when he seems how well it is going down.
However, it is not all plain-sailing for our imposter. This Highgate cuckoo causes much ire from Orgon's willful wife Elmire (Olivia Williams), his dotty son Damis (Enyi Okoronkwo), his ditzy daughter Mariane (Kitty Archer), his knowing housemaid Dorine (Kathy Kiera Clarke), and frustrated brother-in-law Cleante (Hari Dhillon). Oh and let's not forget Mariane's true love socialist poet Valère (Geoffrey Lumb) whose dreadful poetry chimes with the statement, "rhyme is a bourgeois concept."
The whole piece is played as a broad farce with many topical references. It had the feeling of a pantomime mixed with a Restoration comedy.
These topical references include the world of Brexit and of Donald Trump. Tartuffe might be feigning his piety but Orgon is motivated not so much by religious mania as by a false nostalgia. He explains, "That's what Tartuffe is offering, a return to a time when things meant something, where there was love and kindness, not cruelty and selfishness." He all but says, "Let's take back control."
Blanche McIntyre's production is light and airy however and never dwells too long on the political. Instead, it simply brings out the satiric comedy of the action – thereby still being subtly provocative but also downright, riotously entertaining too.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Shipwreck @FisayoAkinade is simply astonishing... a stunning award-winning performance... that stays with us as we walk home. @AlmeidaTheatre @rupertgoold
Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Shipwreck at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.
Shipwreck is written by Anne Washburn, directed by Rupert Goold, and was a play of two halves.
The first was a darkly comic piece, largely about Donald Trump that sets out its stall fairly early on; "Don't you think we should at least consider the possibility that Trump is the Antichrist?"
The characters are white liberal middle-class New Yorkers wringing their hands about how dreadful Trump is. The cast are great (Tara Fitzgerald, Risteárd Cooper, and Raquel Cassidy all fantastic) although things perhaps more as less play out as one might expect. Everyone gets to bitch about what a terrible person Trump is, complain about how he lies with impunity, and moan about what the future might hold. There are a couple of predictable twists too as we come to discover that not everyone is quite on the same page politically. The play imagines Trump knows what he is doing - a bold assertion!
This part of the action takes place in more or less present day and draws upon recently political machinations in the United States. Which of course gives the piece a built-in shelf life. With the faster turnaround afforded television satire any stage play's attempt at outrage to recent events is always going to suffer from being behind the news curve somewhat. There is always some more outrageous Trump tweet, new political scandal, or new International incident that supersedes the subject matter in any play written even six months ago.
That said, there is a particular poignant moment towards the end when a character sets out his reasons for supporting Trump - his concerns on not being listened to, on immigration, on integration, and on being 'left behind'. It is difficult to hear but an important counterpoint nevertheless.
This concern with immigration chimes with the second, largely separate strand of the play that runs in parallel with the main action. This parallel piece is far more haunting, moving and powerful than the liberal bellyaching. It is about race.
Fisayo Akinade plays an adopted African child who has grown up in a white American community. He feels disconnected, different, and alienated. His performance is simply astonishing. He had us in tears with his tales of growing up in the heartland of modern American, the recollections of the atrocities of the slave trade, the verbal and physical abuse that black people experienced then and now, and the few but precious hard-won triumphs. It was a stunning award-winning performance that required a play all of its own.
A somewhat clunky ending brings the two halves of the play together but it is Akinade's performance that stays with us as we walk home. A great night at the theatre.
Monday, March 18, 2019
In Basildon "a joyously celebration of family... full of swearing, blistering one-liners and the odd political insight. All over a ham sandwich spread" ...
Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Dave Eldridge's play In Basildon at the Queen's Theatre in glitzy Hornchurch.
Full disclosure: Dave is a mate of ours so we wouldn't say anything bad about his play, right? Well, we wouldn't need to - it was great - and very funny - full of jokes about Essex (from a man who should know - Dave is from Romford!)
The action takes place in a house in Basildon, Essex and the family are gathered around the deathbed of poor old Uncle Len. Only Len's sisters Maureen and Doreen are not speaking. They haven’t in years. And it looks like the other family members, family, and neighbours are heading in the same direction. Everyone seems hell-bent on making a drama out of a crisis.
The play is a joyously celebration of family. But at a time when family is most keenly exposed; when someone is about to 'pass on'. It is a time of tears, jokes, faux concern, petty rivalries, bold confessions, competitive grieving, passive-aggressive bitching, continual arguing and the odd catfight. Full of swearing, blistering one-liners and the odd political insight. All over a ham sandwich spread.
And then... then… it is time to read the will. Oh dear, oh dear...
From the opening soundtrack of Basildon's finest Alison Moyet, Depeche Mode and Yazoo to the closing blackout we were laughing. And you can't say that of many plays - written by a mate or not!
Friday, March 15, 2019
I went to see Captain Marvel last night. A private screening if you please.
I enjoyed it. I wonder why they released it so near Avengers Endgame though. It makes it seem as if it is being shoe-horned in - which is doing it a disservice.
But am I wrong? Captain Marvel is Marvel's answer to DC's Superman? Same powers.
I enjoyed it. I wonder why they released it so near Avengers Endgame though. It makes it seem as if it is being shoe-horned in - which is doing it a disservice.
But am I wrong? Captain Marvel is Marvel's answer to DC's Superman? Same powers.
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Monday, March 11, 2019
Based upon the 2012 horror film screenplay by Peter Strickland of the same name, the plot revolves around a very English sound engineer, Gilderoy, travelling to Italy to help with the sound affects - the Foley - on a giallo horror film in the 1970s.
Initially it is all crunching of leaves underfoot, stabbing of cabbages and slicing of watermelons. But as the demands of the job increased and the voice-over artists entered the mix - reality and fiction started to blur. Then things suddenly took a very dark turn indeed.
Conceived for the stage by Joel Horwood and Tom Scutt and written by Joel Horwood, it was a clever piece. Although slightly slow going at times – especially as we awaited the well-signposted climax.
Tom Brooke is excellent as Gilderoy and the rest of the cast's Italian sounds perfect - if at times unfathomable.
Weirdly some of the 'live' Foley work is actually recorded.