Full English

The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough has a reputation for showcasing innovative work. I had the joy of seeing ‘Full English’ this week and the storytelling blew me away.

Full English, by Bent Architect and Natalie Davies is a remarkable production.  The story is based upon the personal history of Natalie Davies whose Nan, in the late fifties fell in love with one of the first migrants from Pakistan. Their family experienced racism and their mixed race* children struggled with their identity as they tried to work out where they belonged.

The story is both beautiful and challenging: Beautiful in that it draws upon and glories in the strength of women who banded together, and challenging in the language and attitudes of the times in which it was set. An experience of a holiday in Blackpool which began as joyous turned into a terrifying experience and was so raw, it must have been drawn from a lived experience.

The play spotlights a moment in history from a unique perspective. It reminds the viewer, intensely, of the hideousness of racism, and invites the suggestion, perhaps, that we have grown and moved forward. But before we are too self-congratulatory about how liberal we have become the production also reminds us of how rarely we see such narratives on our stages.

(Image shows Lucy Hird, Kamal Kaan, Faye Weerasinghe)

This blog post is an unashamed fan piece – I loved this production. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and spent time in the Bradford/Manningham areas in which it was set. There were queer pubs in the Manningham area – marginalised people of different tribes find peculiar safety in their marginalisation, if not their differences. I remember the riots (the queer pub I went to burned down). I remember the tensions and the hate of the NF bigots and thugs. I felt a connection to the history but the stories in this piece took me on such a journey of perspective. Despite my Anti-Nazi League badges and attendance at demos, my memories had little rooted understanding of what black and brown communities were experiencing. I felt awestruck when I left the theatre. The play was funny, sad, uplifting, thought-provoking and so beautifully crafted. The writing of this piece is extraordinary – the flow of movement between generations and memory is done so well and the stage direction of how it is delivered is a lesson in which less is so much more.

The play ‘Full English’ is honestly fabulous, amazing and wonderful. If you get a chance to see it, you should. Listing of dates is at this link. I really hope this is picked up for film or TV – it should be.

Shout out to the cast who oozed talent. Faye Weerasinghe (Natalie); Lucy Hird (Cath/Nan); Kamal Kaan (Sohail/various).

*I am aware the term ‘mixed race’ is contested. It is used both in the play and on the information sheet provided by the production team and so the terminology used in and by the production team is used in this blog.

Thanks to @BentArchitectCo for images. Apologies I do not have info to credit the photographer.

Queer Spaces Revisited

In a previous blog post I pondered on what ‘queer spaces’ are

My contribution to the Roots Touring production of ‘Queer Spaces Live!’ was a reflective piece on, specifically, dyke bars I frequented in my younger days. I spoke about how the UK community/communities of queers fought so hard for the right for any and all spaces to be inclusive but we hadn’t, arguably, considered what we might lose once they are.

Thanks to the amazing Tyler Whiting for the photo!

Almost all of the spaces I came out into and grew up in have gone.  Some we are well rid of (Wednesday evening community centre women’s discos, bring your own booze, finished at 10:00, dodge the mean feral youths who waited for us on the way out) but other spaces were places of growth and love and fun and adventure.  They were places to meet and belong.  They were uniquely lesbian and gay spaces – The Alex, Vox and Sill in Hull, The Marlborough, the Candy Bar and Revenge in Brighton. Four of those venues are closed.  One is no longer a dyke bar but advertises as ‘everyone is welcome’. Only one specifically identifies as a specifically gay venue. 

Does it matter?  Should we lament the loss of so many distinctly queer spaces or celebrate that everywhere is potentially our space now?

I don’t know 

What was fascinating about the Queer Spaces Live! production was that each of the performers spoke of claiming space in one way or the other, but a thread throughout each was that the spaces needed to be claimed. Whilst people were radically empowered to take the spaces there was a centrality to the essential nature of the spaces as queer; as distinct; as vulnerable.

The performances within Queer Spaces Live! Suggested to me that Queer Space is still, on the one hand contested for its challenge and, on the other hand, a place for forming identity. Queer spaces are still places of resistance. Do they need to be distinctly queer spaces to offer this?

I don’t know – but I think so

The Roots Touring Company created a queer space.  It is what it does.  For me there was an exciting circularity to the space being created and what the performers did with it – and that it felt like a space of bold activism as well as the creation of beautiful art.

I must give a shout out to the people involved.  Oh. My. Days.  My colleague performers were extraordinarily talented – and generously supportive of my own lack of performing talent (note: I am now a BAFTA level talent on acting ‘milling about’ thanks to their teaching – I owe you guys 🙂 ).

• Phoenix Andrews
• Emma Bates
• Joy Cruickshank
• Erin Enfys
• Arden Fitzroy
• Max Percy
• Ela Portnoy
• Eliza Beth Stevens

presented stories of growth and love and challenge and joy and each were MAGNIFICENT.  Keep an eye out for these names because they are uniquely and breathtakingly talented and they are going to take over the whole world.  I can hardly believe I had the privilege and joy of sharing a stage with them.

None were forced to be involved in the performance.  Like me, they chose to be in it – to invest their time and energy and share their powerful, compelling stories and lay themselves open to critique. It seems fairly safe to presume that also like me, they thought this was an important space to create.  Were we individually and collectively invested in the creation of a specifically queer space?

(Eliza and Ela at Portal Bookshop in York. An inspiration for Eliza’s monologue)

I think so

I have to also give a shout out to the team that made Queer Spaces Live! happen. Producer Steven Atkinson, Director Ali Pidsley and Dramaturg Frazer Flintham. Despite the fact that I am literally old enough to be their mother and we play for different teams, I have a bit of a crush on all of them. A magician once told me that magic only looks convincingly effortless with hours and hours of work and commitment to being the best. These three created magic. They held the making of the performance so carefully and safely they enabled us all to grow. I am a better human being, more confident, and proud of myself because of their talent and I will literally never forget them for enabling me to perform

(Steven, Frazer and me after rehearsals).

Queer spaces provide us with places we can be ourselves and lower our defences.  They give us a place for celebration and being together – and also places where we can value each other.

Queer spaces are where we are but not everywhere we might be, is a queer space

Until we can be confident about inclusivity, queer spaces have a crucial role in resistance to oppression.

Thanks to Roots Theatre Touring Company for creating one.