It would seem a contradiction in terms that an autobiographical show about one man’s experience with HIV, cancer and mental health issues could have an audience laughing quite so much. Nevertheless humour came hand in hand with moments of genuine emotion in Stuart Saint’s queer music theatre piece, Misfit Warrior.
There is an intimate beauty there and Saint is an engaging presence.
Saint is a writer, performer and actor with an impressive resume. He chose to face the stigma often associated with HIV positive gay men by ‘coming out’ as HIV positive online two years ago. Misfit Warrior is the culmination of the journey he has been on since then, as he explains in one of the personal, direct-to-audience monologues which punctuate the show’s more theatrical aspects. Despite being ostensible ‘asides’ from the main body of the play, it is these moments which were the most touching for the audience and which also garnered the most laughs owing to his self-deprecating gentle wit.
In addition to short scenes where Saint’s ‘Misfit’ and ‘Warrior’ sides confront each other, most of the show is made up of musical numbers. The influences of Fosse and Bowie which Saint himself cites are clear in his choreography and expressionist musical style. He is accompanied by the accomplished sultry talents of Kieran McIntosh and Kimberley Ensor as The Noises, putting voice to Saint’s paranoias, doubts and darkest thoughts. The chemistry of the trio is remarkable. They have clearly having worked closely together to make this show, to the extent that they neatly anticipate each other’s every move.
It is almost impossible to adequately critique a show so personal to its creator and performer; Saint is a genuine and amiable figure and I couldn’t help but find myself completely and utterly invested in his story. Nevertheless, there was something a little underwhelming about the whole experience. In a show which is so pointedly the story of an individual, the larger-than-life performative queer aspects felt a little shoehorned in. A large feather headdress passed around between the performers and a sequence where McIntosh parades around in a leather harness (while pleasing on the eye) became a little gratuitous in context: mere symbols of the grander, all-singing all-dancing show which Saint probably actually wanted to create. The space did not lend itself well to the show and there were points where the vocals or choreography were a little shaky.
All of this, however, only adds to the honesty and integrity of Saint’s performance. The show has a small-scale, homemade feel about which would be lost if it had been translated to a larger venue or included a bigger cast. There is an intimate beauty there and Saint is an engaging presence. Misfit Warrior would tug at the heartstrings of any queer person and Saint can only be applauded for taking on such a difficult topic with suitable panache.