Philip Venables and Ted Huffman have turned this ‘70s cult book into an absorbing piece of music theatre that both challenges and beguiles its audience.
Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta wrote The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions in 1977, and it instantly became a cult classic. Retelling history through a queer lens, the authors set out to shine a light on the radical approach the LGBTQIA+ community had to adopt if it were to assert its right to equality in a world, and at a time, when it had none. And by using such an inflammatory and pejorative word as ‘faggot’ in the title, Mitchell’s aim was to reclaim the word in a positive way for the community – as ‘queer’ was in the ‘80s.
It’s a work that offers itself to a myriad of interpretations, something composer Philip Venables and director Ted Huffman have seized upon, and in the process have crafted a work that almost defies description. Part vaudeville, part cabaret, and infused with dance, opera, and spoken word, they have created the ultimate queer gesamtkunstwerk whose originality and daring are breathtaking.
In many ways The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions can trace its lineage back to the likes of Kagel, Berio and Stockhausen, all iconoclasts who pushed the boundaries of what music and theatre could achieve to their ultimate limits. However, they often sacrificed linear narrative, replacing it with a more esoteric kind of storytelling that was designed to baffle and appeal on an intellectual level. Venables and Huffman take a very different approach, immediately engaging the audience on an emotional level, which they sustain for the work’s 90 minutes.
There’s certainly nowhere for the performers to hide, as they’re on stage for the duration of the show, each allotted their moment to shine in the spotlight, as they take us on a roller coaster ride through this reimagined potted queer history lesson. Each is required to speak, sing, dance and play an instrument (often more than one), which is asking a lot, but their commitment never wavers – their energy never flags.
“It’s a work that offers itself to a myriad of interpretations…”
Venables’ score requires a myriad of instruments that span several centuries. Lute songs are interspersed with the urbane accompaniment from a saxophone, a theorbo whisks us back to Elizabethan times, before we’re jolted back to the present day by rave music complete with strobe lighting. No musical genre goes unexplored. In lesser hands, this could descend into mere pastiche, but Venables is too skilled a composer to fall into that trap. His score is audacious, vibrant and challenging, and was faultlessly brought to life by the entire cast, under Yshani Perinpanayagam’s expert musical direction.
Holding everything together as a gender-fluid emcee, Kit Green turned in a remarkable performance, their laid back style, suffused with a sense of anarchic humour, a joy to behold. Breaking the fourth wall, they invited us to join together with the cast in a sing-song partway through, which we wholeheartedly threw ourselves into – it was that kind of show. There are no named roles, but every single member of the cast deserves a mention as each delivered a tour de force performance: Kerry Bursey, Jacob Garside, Conor Gricmanis, Deepa Johnny, Mariamielle Lamagat, Eric Lamb, Themba Mvula, Meriel Price, Collin Shay, Dan Shelvey, Joy Smith, Sally Swanson and Yandass.
At times dark, yet often laugh out loud funny, The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions is an extravagant, subversive, audacious, thrilling work that demands to be seen, as there’s still much to be learnt from this queer retelling of history.
• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.