Matt Miller and Peader Kirk
Matt Miller and Peader Kirk
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
Matt Miller stands on the stage and says, “a man stands upstage right,” but then he realises that’s wrong for he is standing upstage left, so he says, “a man stands upstage left. He is wearing a two-piece suit, grey, with a blue shirt.” However he’s actually wearing a leopard-print dress and black tights.
He’s got our attention.
A little later, he will tell us he is wearing a leopard-print dress when he’s wearing a grey suit (but no blue shirt).
And anyway it shouldn‘t be “he” or “him” but “they” or “them.” We are beginning to realise that their gender is fluid—they are not binary, one or zero, on or off, but both.
I was born in the last two years of the war and when I was brought up in the '40s and '50s, men were men, women were (supposed to be) subservient and homosexuals were puffs. By the '60s, homosexuals were funny, thanks to Julian and Sandy, played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams in Round the Horne—unless, of course, they were arrested for cottaging—and “gay” still meant “happy”. There was even a character called Gaylord Ravenal in the 1927 musical Showboat.
In the '70s, the Tom Robinson Band sang “Sing if you’re glad to be gay” and yellow “Glad to be gay” badges began to appear in public. I first saw one being worn in public on a Newcastle to King’s Cross train and people were very unsure of how to react, so they did that very British thing of pretending there was nothing to react to.
But now, of course, we have the whole LGBTQ+ spectrum, the acceptance that there are not just two gender roles but a variety, all with equal validity.
And this diversion leads us back to Fitting, one of the themes of which is appearances—Miller’s cross-dressing and reactions to it.
They talk about their experiences while dressed as a woman (the man at the bus stop and the bloke in the street) and while dressed as a man (the massive guy who takes up most of a Metro seat and refuses to give an inch) and explore the whole idea that our interaction with the world is a kind of performance, when what appears to be the case isn’t, as in the classic magic cups and balls trick which they perform in many (impressive) variations. What you see is not necessarily what you get!
But in spite of this well-conceived and well executed excursion into the magical, in spite of the on-stage changing of clothes and other bits of physicality, it is the words which are paramount. Millar’s background is in poetry and spoken word, and it shows. They create a gentle world; there’s no confrontation, no polemic. It's not the world of the in-yer-face drag diva. It is an accepting world.
Is it real? Who knows? What we do know is that it is the world Matt Miller has created for us through their words out of their experience of their world. And to be honest, it should be true. It would be good to think that our world is so accepting of difference and diversity. Miller's words make it so, at least for the 60-minute duration of the show, and let's be grateful for that.
After Newcastle, the show tours to The Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield (13 March); The Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Hexham (25 & 26 March); The Hat Factory Arts Centre, Luton (30 April) and The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham (21–23 May).
Reviewer: Peter Lathan