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Review: Hope Theatre Company’s OutStageUs

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OutStageUs is an annual event which was held in the Aldridge Studio at the Lowry. Hope Theatre invited open submissions, intending to present a ‘diverse range’ of LGBTQ+ performances. The pieces themselves were varied, both in content and quality.  There were also many moving, troubling, and memorable moments to make the evening worthwhile.

The night began with Conor Hunt’s ‘Kings of Idle Land’, a scene of two male ‘friends’ in 2001. One grappling with his sexuality and one out and proud. I laughed out loud at the line ‘she smells of wet dog and sadness’, however chemistry between the actors was lacking – making their climactic kiss at the end feel predictable rather than revelatory.

Little Dear Films’ shadowy and sensual short, ‘His Hands’, represented the duality of sexuality in terms of role reversal. Aaron Blake and Philip Brisebois acted well and there were some highly memorable images; phallic lipstick, intimate eye contact and, of course, the ‘hands’ of both men. Closing the first act, ‘I Know Why The Gay Man Dances’, combined recorded poetry with dance. MJ Manning’s physicality was skilful and fluid, although the audio at times felt disconnected from the movement.

Daniel Waterhouse’s four-part series ‘Queer Talk’ was compelling, framing the evening with personal stories from different men. ‘Reign’ told the story of an openly gay mayor with touching sincerity. In contrast, ‘Convert’, the story of a straight man overcoming internalised homophobia felt rather jarring. His growing acceptance of other sexualities seemed based on their usefulness to him. ‘Reared’ in the second act was poignant, reflecting upon the historical abuse of queer men who stayed silent out of shame. ‘Pink & Bloom’, performed by Waterhouse himself, was heartfelt and performed with ease and undeniable likability.

The first act left me a little cold, as a night which claimed to be representing ‘Manchester’s rich LGBT+ community’ spent its first half exclusively representing gay, mostly white men.

Starting the second act with Adam Zane’s ‘Jock Night 2’- which was, admittedly, very funny- implied this lack of inclusivity would continue. Fortunately, Xenia Lily’s ‘Pastel Pride’ covered new ground. It tackled themes such as RuPaul’s exclusion of trans drag queens and the invisibility of ‘straight-passing’ lesbians in the queer community.

Rob Ward’s ‘There’s Something I Need to Say’ was the standout of the night, ingeniously subverting the conventional coming-out narrative. Sue McCormick and Ward’s comic timing was faultless when he ‘came out’ to his mother (after much inner turmoil) as a Corbyn voter. In the ensuing horror, his mother (McCormick) came out as a lesbian. Yet, hilariously, it was Ward’s confession, not McCormick’s, which was deemed unforgivable.

Lee Johnson’s ‘Pride’ (read by Keaton Lansley) was the impressive final performance. It was a vivid reminder of the true consequences of homophobia, often lost in the rainbow-striped sheen of Canal Street and modern pride. ‘We’re the lucky ones’, said Lansley, calling to mind those who aren’t so lucky.

OutStageUs could have been more inclusive. To be truly representative, the creative team could have selected more submissions showcasing the queer female, bisexual or trans experience. Overall, the evening was very enjoyable, and the occasional inconsistencies in quality were ameliorated by the standout pieces.  I look forward to next year’s selections.

Tags: bisexual, Canal Street, gay pride, homophobia, hopetheatrecompany, LGBTQ, Lowry, outstageus, Queer, trans experience

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