The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions
Ted Huffman and Philip Venables
Southbank Centre and Factory International
The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions slowly limps into action with a timid hum from a single vocalist, standing at the edge of the stage staring sternly into the audience. The house lights are still up, and the crowd are in full swing gossiping with one another about their day and what is to come, whilst slugging expensive (does not mean good) wine. Only when she starts to softly sing the first powerful words of the show, “it’s been a long time and we are still not free,” do people take heed and settle down.
This intentionally meek beginning steadily builds momentum as the empty stage begins to fill up with an array of musical instruments—shabby chairs and an ensemble cast of dancers, singers, musicians, actors and those who are a combination of all four.
Dance, theatre, music and song tell the story of Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta's now cult 1977 book of the same name. It tells the sometimes-uncomfortable story of a world through a queer lens set in the declining empire of Ramrod—which is ruled over by the wonderfully named Warren-And-His-Fuckpole. In this world, faggots (gay men) face a humiliating and segregated future despite being admired and supported by a range of other communities—including the "women" (feminists), "queens" (drag queens), "women who love women" (lesbians) "faeries" (the Radical Faeries) and others.
What is brought to life at the Southbank Centre in this inspiring new adaptation by composer Philip Venables and director Ted Huffman is a thought-provoking, colourful, sometimes distressing and frequently hilarious look at hierarchy, societal norms, history and mankind.
This is a stripped-back, intensely emotional production with nowhere to hide for all involved. The cast remain on stage for the entire show alongside a collection of instruments—some recognisable and others less so—the creaking chairs, costumes and other amateur-looking props. Rosie Elnile's vast black set with all this clutter strewn around the outer edges is both brave and completely practical on so many levels. The cast move items into the light when needed and then respectfully return them to the shadows when done. There's so much going on at every point throughout the show that costume changes happen before your very eyes without you even realising—making this in-your-face approach both mesmerising and genius.
There is a very real and worthy topic at the heart of Faggots and Their Friends—namely oppression and liberation—but there is also humour in abundance that comes from both the original text and some tweaks for this production. At one stage the fourth wall is surprisingly broken when the sassy and flirty Kit Green addresses the audience in a very pantomime-style twist by insisting we all get involved in a sing-along. Without this moment of respite, the intensity of the performance could feel like a rather difficult and prolonged 90 minutes. There are so many other moments of real intimacy that are completely nailed despite taking place amidst the vastness of the stage. Getting these moments so perfect is a genuine tribute to the success of every single character’s ability to connect with the audience.
This won't be a show for everyone. It's an intelligent and playful attempt at tackling a challenging subject matter that was front and centre of the equality movement in the the 1970s and that still exists in some shape or form today in many places around the world. It may lead to more conversations over more disgusting wine in the bar afterwards, and perhaps that's all its creators want to do. If we talk and discuss, then we are starting to question and consider.
Reviewer: Thomas Magill