Self Service

Milk Presents
York Theatre Royal Studio

Milk Presents: Self-Service, featuring Ruby Glaskin, Lucy Doherty and Adam Robertson Credit: Milk Presents / York Theatre Royal
Milk Presents: Self-Service, featuring Ruby Glaskin, Adam Robertson and Lucy Doherty Credit: Milk Presents / York Theatre Royal

Formed in 2010 and currently composed of three performers, Milk Presents describes itself as a company whose aim is 'to make work that explores the portrayal of gender and sexuality in stories and popular culture.' It's certainly one of those companies that would rarely get a scheduled slot in York Theatre Royal's studio space were it not for the wide remit and quirky programming of the now-annual TakeOver Festival, and the festival, and theatre, are all the stronger for it.

This is cabaret of the most welcoming kind, with all three performers—Lucy Doherty, Ruby Glaskin, and Adam Robertson—engaging and warm presences. The show sets out to investigate what queer might mean. Though there is some well-placed and imaginative rankling at some of the more imbecilic recent rhetoric surrounding the legalisation of gay marriage, this is for the most part investigative and all-embracing rather than polemical. One key distinction is drawn between 'queer' and 'gay', and the joys—and confusions—of embracing queerness are articulated well through a series of vignettes, songs and striking imagery.

Most, though not all, of the latter relies on the company's charming and imaginative use of some antiquated technology: an overhead projector and a series of extremely hand-made slides. The back wall hence becomes a café setting, a makeshift spotlight, a television screen and even, in a marvellous use of (low-)technology which evokes 1970s Top of the Pops, the psychedelic backdrop to the show's penultimate number. Live keyboard is provided by Lucy Doherty, and all three cast members sing and perform with skill and presence.

There is occasional audience participation, but this is of the least threatening, most fun kind. This is not in-yer-face cabaret but a celebratory exploration of 'queer', a descriptor which 'will never lure you into thinking that the world is a fixed concept'. The illustration of this is touching and evocative, as is the depiction of the first public experiences of someone who's not happy defining themselves as either 'gay' or 'straight'. Most of all, this is an amusing and creative night of entertainment which is, at its best, thought-provoking as well.

Some moments of particularly choice vocabulary and euphemism mean that this is listed as suitable for over-sixteens only, and those with particularly strong views against the widening of the concept of marriage—or an aversion to moustachioed men in high heels sitting on their laps—might also be advised to steer clear. But those keen on inventive theatrical forms and interested in what on earth 'normal' might mean anyway are urged to attend.

Reviewer: Mark Love-Smith

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