Burnt Lavender is a queer cabaret, devised and presented by students from the University of Worcester's Masters in Touring Theatre degree. The show asks the question: what is the point of creating social structures which force individuals to live out lives that are not their own. Who exactly does this serve? It is performed by a large group including Olga Hlouskova, Aadil Din, Lin Perne, Robin Cain, Freya Webb, Mathew Cartwright, Jamie Shaw, Charlotte Jeffreys-Hall, Corinne Leigh-Hewitson, Leo Pawlin, Ryan Brunt, and Grace Livermore. The design is simple but effective, consisting of chairs and curtained door frames.
Moving and profound, a quality, worthwhile production
Together, the company creates a transgressive night club – a conglomeration of historical queer establishments that, in one way or another, have subverted the prevailing heteronormative culture of the time. This ranges from the famous El Dorado in Weimar Berlin, to London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
Unusually, the manager of the club is a totalitarian dictator. He barks orders through his megaphone - trying to dictate the thoughts, feelings, behaviour, sexual identity and gender identity of the club’s performers. This is a device that doesn’t quite work (it feels as if such a character would either steer clear of this kind of career altogether, or otherwise, just shut the whole club down.)
However, this is theatre, and we are prepared to live with such a peculiarity because it enables us to witness some wonderful moments of individual defiance and group protest, through the prism of the cabaret.
And these performers are super-defiant. There are some pivotal moments when we see them tested - a police raid on the Vauxhall Tavern is satirised using a Keystone Cop dance routine; the absurdity of male-female dance shows is revealed when heteronormative instructions are bellowed down the megaphone by the manager. Some of these routines are spectacular.
There some areas that need further attention. With no technical vocal projection support, some members of the cast are struggling to make themselves heard. This is an easy thing to fix. When your voice teacher tells you to practise voice for an hour every day, do it. It will pay off! Also, there are some games that are used in the rehearsal room that don’t transfer well to the stage, but one senses that this can also be fixed, once identified.
The students should be proud of their work, which is, at times, moving and profound, a quality, worthwhile production that should be further developed.