The playwrights, directors, and actors who constitute the loose confederation that is the Village Pub Theatre once again moved in to the more upmarket, city central Traverse Theatre café-bar for this first of two nights of new short dramas – performed scripts-in-hand – celebrating LGBT History Month. Themed around the topic of LGBT Innovators, this first night offered some excellent – and admittedly also a tad disappointing – theatre and spoken word.
Clifford is certainly an innovator, not least through her contribution to a body of theatrical work grounded in trans experiences.
Following a roaming drag-inspired bar performance to Eurythmics’ pulsing “I Need A Man” by the deliciously rude-sounding Jen Der Fuc and Dick Le Dyke, the evening kicked off with two short dramas ably performed by Karen Fishwick and Vari Sylvester. In Where Are We Now?, writer Helen Shutt explored how innovators like David Bowie and Malcolm McLaren influenced other people’s lives; in Sugar, Giles Conisbee questioned why some people feel the need hold onto things as much as others feel the need to challenge them.
Given their limited rehearsal time with both scripts, Fishwick and Sylvester’s talent as performers were clear, creating fully-rounded characters from the scripts in their hands. But in addition to sharing the same cast, both works – ably directed by VPT co-founder Caitlin Skinner – interestingly approached the theme of the evening through the meeting of different generations, and the passing on of experience from one to the other.
The first half concluded with a spoken word performance by “special guest” Jo Clifford. Unlike the previous works which – given some of their references – had clearly been written in the previous few weeks, the Edinburgh-based writer’s poetic The Night Journey had its origins in a play – originally rejected by the Traverse Theatre decades earlier – about an updated vision of Danté’s Circles of Hell. Clifford is certainly an innovator, not least through her contribution to a body of theatrical work grounded in trans experiences. However, despite her own apparent renewed enjoyment of performing, she has numerous limitations in that role, not least an inability to project her voice to the back of even a relatively small performance venue. That her audience at one point burst into applause – when she had simply paused to take a sip of water – rather obviously suggested that she had lost their attention sufficiently for any silence to be taken as signifying the end.
James Ley’s new “play to be read in bookshops”, Love Song to Lavender Menace, is well-named; enchantingly performed by Laurie Brown and Matthew McVarish, it may still be a work in progress, but it’s positive approach to the story of the innovative LGBT bookshop in Edinburgh during the 1980s proved to be a witty, energetic experience that promises much for its eventual full performance later in the year.
The evening concluded with a brief, yet insightful, panel discussion featuring the evening’s writers and also – to many’s genuine pleasure – Bob Orr and Sigrid Neilson, the two founders of the Lavender Menace bookshop. Clearly startled by seeing themselves portrayed on the stage just minutes earlier, the pair were modest enough to insist that – if they were innovators back in 1982 – there are still plenty of LGBT innovators around today. Not least with the Village Pub Theatre.