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My Gay Agenda

My Gay Agenda: Who’s Gonna Love Me Now and Aladdin

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Trailed as the story of Saar, a member of London’s Gay Men’s Chorus, I thought I knew where documentary Who’s Gonna Love Me Know was going to take me, and I was there for it. Singing in choirs has given me the best moments of my life and it frustrates me that I just haven’t been able to be in one for a couple of years. Yet the role of the chorus is limited and used to maximum effect as a punctuating soundtrack to a gay son seeking reconciliation with his orthodox Jewish family in Israel.

The documentary (filmed over five years but feeling more like one as its never date stamped on screen) gives a sensitive witness to Saar’s life and choices. Seeing him going to the clinic to ‘check his bloods’ and change his medication was, I’m ashamed to admit, the first time I realised this is the inescapable reality (for now) of being HIV positive. What is inexcusable though is the shocking stigma. Saar himself says his status is ‘karma, because he did bad things’ including promiscuity and group sex (these are not bad things). Most of the conversations are subtitled from Hebrew, a language that doesn’t have the letters for HIV. His patriotic paratrooper father instead describes those who are HIV positive as ‘animals’.

Saar

Throughout the film, you see how thirty-something Saar embraces a wide sense of responsibility to family, both choral and biological, even when he’s been rejected. Directors Barak and Tomer Heymann give a beautiful contrast to the busyness of London and the stillness of a kibbutz in Israel. There’s laughs too, as Saar takes his Dad to Old Compton Street (which I first only recognised from the Caffe Nero they sat at).  I could say much more, but that would spoil the film for you. Who’s Gonna Love Me Now is undoubtedly a moving, subtly shot documentary that answers its titular question and leaves you asking more about transformation and lova in our human relationships and the power of documentaries in shaping their stars’ lives.

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now is out to rent on demand now and to own on digital or DVD on 29th May. The film is mostly subtitled and it helps to have a basic knowledge of Jewish culture. Oriented is another fascinating documentary about three young gay Palestinians and is available on Netflix.

Aladdin

Since Aladdin opened at the Prince Edward Theatre last June, my friend and reviews I’ve read had the same opinion: it’s a bit too panto, but you go with it. At times spectacular, it doesn’t match up to Disney’s other Broadway big hitters, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, both of which translated the animation to theatre without losing any wonder or charm. Aladdin’s monkey sidekicks Abu and Carpet, as well as Princess Jasmine’s tiger Rajah are all disappointingly chopped out of the retold story.

Act One treads water with a too-slow chase in One Jump Ahead and some mediocre new songs until, finally, the Cave of Wonders comes to the rescue. It’s the breathless performance of The Genie (played I think by understudy Oliver Lindert when I went) in Friend Like Me that the musical rejoices in bringing you back to the film. John Gallagher as Jafar also gives a perfect performance as the British villain amongst an ensemble of American voices, seemingly used just to remind you this is Disney.

Despite my scepticism I was laughing along, enchanted by the colour filled costumes and magic carpet ride and thirsting over Aladdin’s friend Omar (Rachid Sabitri), who isn’t quite as sculpted or showing off as much flesh as the titular star. Aladdin was fun and sparkly afternoon at the theatre but you’ll still can’t beat the spectacle, emotion and Disney magic over at the Lyceum where the The Lion King is playing its 18th year.

Aladdin is currently booking until 30th September 2017 and there’s a weekly ticket lottery.

RU Coming Out 5th Birthday Party

And on Thursday, the annual RU Coming Out party finally made me visit the RVT, Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The night was nothing but fun, celebrating the 5th birthday of a invaluable website run by my colleague Wayne Dhesi. Ruby Murray and Charity Shop Sue brought the cabaret and Nate James the soul while Sam Callahan got topless and surprised no-one. It was all a warm-up though for Mutya, belting out the best of the back catalogue and wiping the floor with the other Sugababe I saw this week (Jade plays Princess Jasmine). I drunkenly tweeted Too Lost In You was a highlight of my life and I stand by that.

Next on My Gay Agenda is Angels In America at the end of May.

My Gay Agenda: David Hockney and Queer British Art

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It’s a long time since I’ve seen exhibitions dedicated to single subjects: Kylie Minogue in 2007 and Wedding Dresses in 2015, both at the V&A. But with two headline shows now open at Tate Britain, it was time I got out of the Sunday review pages and experienced more art for myself. The David Hockney and Queer British Art exhibitions have both had publicity and plaudits that an art gallery rarely enjoys. I wanted to resist the reviews calling them ‘fascinating’, ‘incredible’ or other stock adjectives and feel what the art said for myself (you can tell I’ve soaked up the pompousness of reviews I read). Unfortunately I’m not sure either quite spoke the story of emotion I was hoping for.

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney is on permanent display at Tate Britain and one of the nation’s favourite paintings

The first thing that strikes you on a Saturday morning at the Hockney is how incredibly busy it is (a concern I’m sure the exhibition’s 5-star reviewers didn’t have). It’s a mix of struggling to appreciate the art ‘properly’ whilst also appreciating it more through eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. I went in knowing little more than Hockney’s name and his Yorkshire birth, but the opening room, Play Within a Play sets the scene of how his six-decade career has focused on playing with space and perspective.

Whether you get the audio guide or not (I didn’t, though my friend Lucy did) the retrospective tells the story of his career, from a young angry art student with provocative graffiti-style gay art like Two Boys Kissing through to his much-loved pastels and growing realism of Los Angeles, portraits and Polaroid collages before his return to abstractism in the 1980s. Hockney’s creativity and skill is to be appreciated throughout, right up to his latest immersive video wall and iPad installations. Yet only a few pieces made me feel anything. It wasn’t the famous LA pools and naked swimmers as calming as they were (also a favourite of my six year old nephew who saw the show). It’s the larger and later pieces such as Going Up Garrowby Hill that made me embrace their breathtaking explosion of colour and scale. The show’s pieces get bigger as you go along and Hockney becomes unquestionably successful (do not overlook that canvas and paint are expensive).

Exhibition poster featuring Going Up Garrowby Hill

It is, to use one of those stock adjectives, remarkable to see the breadth of work by Hockney, now 80 in one place, however many other people and inappropriately young children you see it with. The story told his one of his career, his expression through different mediums and gives plenty of talking points if not emotion. More Hockney appears downstairs in Queer British Art, though this is a confused collection rather than a single story on display. The exhibition showcases queer art (by queer artists, or playing around with gender norms and sexuality) from 1861 when the death penalty for sodomy was abolished to fifty years ago, 1967, when gay sex was partially decriminalised in England and Wales.

There is impactful art on display: Oscar Wilde’s prison door next to a life size portrait by Robert Pennington. Bathing by Duncan Grant, showing off all parts of the male body swimming in The Serpentine. His private erotica sketches too show active embracing gay sex that he was ‘never ashamed of’. And there’s Hockney’s Life Painting for a Diploma that shows the worry and obsession over white gym bunnies is nothing new for gay men. A few statues and artefacts scatter the route but most of the art displayed is paintings that don’t quite tell the story of drag, or theatre performance that is hinted at. In the later rooms showing queer London in the 1950s and 60s, I was coldly left feeling further away from Soho than my unknowing Grandpa must have been at the time.

Bathing by Duncan Grant

Queer British Art fails to give you the history lesson you might want, or the blockbuster paintings you might expect. They’re elsewhere, including of course upstairs in the Hockney. I’m a keyboard critic with no knowledge of how to curate an exhibition beyond realising not every piece you want will be available, but this is not the story I’d have told. Instead I’d have focused on the 1950s onwards to celebrate the cultural uncovering of queer identities across all art forms, probably at the Tate Modern instead of Tate Britain. It’s still worth seeing if you’re in the area, especially if you can combine it with the Hockney. Both exhibitions, whatever your interest in ‘art’ have individual, exceptional pieces to soak in and dissect.


David Hockney is at the Tate Britain, Millbank until 29th May and Queer British Art until 1st October. Pre-booking for Hockney is essential to avoid waiting for hours. A combined ticket to both, available for most days is £29 including a free glass of wine or hot drink, which you’ll need to fight off exhibition fatigue. Their website was horrendous so I had to ring up to book my tickets instead.

Next on My Gay Agenda: a review of documentary Who’s Gonna Love Me Now and a visit to the National Theatre for Angels in America. Enter the ticket ballots or find a cinema screening on the website.

All pictures in this post come from the Tate website. Go see art in person, not on my blog.

My Gay Agenda: Rent and Moonlight

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Rent is a very special musical to me. Its pretty-faithful-but-flat adaptation is the last film I watched with my Dad, on the weekend back in 2008 when my Grandma died. Standout songs including Without You stayed with me. Only now watching the UK 20th anniversary tour did the whole show, not just the songs, make sense and make an impact on me.

If all you know is the omnipresent Seasons of Love, you’re in for a shock. Based on the opera La bohème, Rent is an angry story of protest, resistance and survival that seems relevant in 2017 (I know ‘relevant in 2017’ is already a clichéd phrase). A slightly irritating group of artists struggle in 1990s New York as they face up to poverty, sex, drugs and HIV/Aids. Mark lives for his work as a filmmaker, while Roger is trying to write one last great rock song. There’s also Mark’s ex Maureen who’s now dating lawyer Joanne, drug addict neighbour Mimi and gentrification personified in landlord Benny.

It’s an intimate, human musical which offers profound thoughts on individuality, relationships, compassion and dignity. The fluid staging and exceptional choreography propels you through a marathon first half all set on one Christmas Eve, before the plot fast forwards for Act Two. Drag queen drummer Angel and her new boyfriend Collins stand out as the only truly likeable (and implausibly perfect) characters, with wonderful vocals, dancing and a tender love that will make you cry. This is a production of Rent that gives the late Jonathan Larson’s poignant and surprisingly timeless work the staging it and UK audiences deserve. Definitely worth a trip to see at a theatre near or not so near you.

Photo from RentOnStage.co.uk

Rent is now touring until May, including 7th-11th March at New Victoria Theatre. If you can’t make it, there’s a live DVD recording of the final Broadway show from 2008.

 

Moonlight

I’m still not sure on my verdict on Moonlight, the much publicised film painted as the only real contender to La La Land at next week’s Oscars. Certainly the low budget and tight production time – only three days to shoot with Naomie Harris, actors who’ve not yet met speaking for the first time on screen – make the film more impressive, along with the autobiographical meshing from director Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell McCraney. But films are judged on what we see, not how they were made. Today Mark Kermode in the Observer named it his film of 2017, while Camilla Long for The Sunday Times found the hype that calls it relevant and urgent flawed ‘because Moonlight barely has 10 minutes of plot’. My amateur film buff friends are equally divided on their verdicts. Some found it brilliant, others utterly boring.

The film shows the life of Chiron in the projects (social housing) of Miami as a seven year old black boy, a teenager and a 20-something adult. His life has plenty of plot and characters to go with it, including a heroin addict mother, a drug dealer that mentors him like a father and Kevin, a friend that he has sex with. In each of the three acts (with three physically different actors, but you never doubt they’re one character) there’s powerful moments transformation and vulnerability. It’s all scored and shot beautifully, with what’s unsaid often speaking more than the dialogue. Moonlight is a snapshot of black, gay and masculine identities painfully colliding together. It wasn’t made for it’s own hype to win Oscars. The inescapable sense of worthiness that comes with it is sincere not snobbish.

Some moments gave me flashbacks to my own experiences growing up, as I’m sure it will for most of the audience. That’s not to reduce Moonlight to universality. The wide reach and critical acclaim unquestionably makes it a ground-breaking film on black and gay identities that (as my friend Sarah has already said in her review) is so personal, you cannot escape a commonality to some part of it. I wasn’t bored or compelled watching. I was intrigued, hopeful but frustrated by Chiron and what his upbringing forced him to be. It’s not the best film I’ve seen this year (that’s probably between Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls for now) yet I know I’ll watch it again and feel something I missed on the first watch. Ignore the hype and go see it for yourself. I didn’t, which as usual set my anticipation impossibly high.

Moonlight is out now

My Gay Agenda: Newsies

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The 1990s continue to be good for Disney. Aladdin and The Lion King are still London’s biggest stage spectacles, while hype around next month’s Beauty and the Beast remake is already making us revisit a tale as old as our childhoods, if not quite as old as time. Before then another 90s Disney story is back in cinemas, but you’ve probably not heard it before.

Newsies was a 1992 Razzie-winning musical film flop featuring a young Christian Bale. Through video and DVD releases, it slowly grew a cult following that convinced Disney to take it to the stage. Originally intended for a limited run, the show with a rewritten plot and additional songs stayed on Broadway for three years and won two Tony awards. On Sunday 19th February, Newsies: The Broadway Musical is in UK cinemas and earlier this week I joined some of the ‘fansies’ for a preview. Here’s five reasons why you might want to get your tickets and watch what happens.

 

It’s a story about protest and who controls the media

Very loosely based on the Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, Newsies pits the teenagers selling papers on street corners against Joseph Pulitizer, owner of The World. With the help of budding reporter Katherine, they form a union and strike. The plot left me with gentle and clear messages about leadership, building coalitions and social justice. It’s not as radical or angry as Rent, another NYC protest musical, but is just as rousing and timely a story for 2017.

 

Jeremy Jordan is stunning

Known for TV roles in Smash and Supergirl, Jeremy Jordan puts his good looks and swagger to great use playing Jack Kelly. He gives an easy, at some points emotional performance as the conflicted Newsies leader who wants to escape the downtrodden city life. Santa Fe especially shows off his natural musical theatre vocals and beautiful face with plenty of close-ups to appreciate. Steve Blanchard also makes his mark in the show as the calculated Joseph Pulitzer.

Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly

 

There’s tough guys in vests doing backflips and tap

The three-dozen male ensemble supporting Jeremy Jordan left me unexpectedly thirsty for a Wednesday morning. Christopher Gattelli’s award-winning choreography, full of blackflips, spins, leaps and a tap number perfectly matches Alan Menken’s music and Jack Feldman’s playful lyrics. While there’s no stand-out songs on first listen, I was humming the tunes on my way home and remembering the sheer joy of those dance breaks. Now I’ve got the soundtrack firmly on repeat.

 

It’s all filmed very well

This specially-recorded performance succeeds at placing you in the theatre as much as it can and never falls flat. In the odd moment the live theatre audience sounded like a forced laughter track, but one I was mostly laughing along with. The camera angles make you look up as if you’re there and sweeps through the stage at all the right moments, while the fight scene is cut together well to put you in middle of the action. Don’t think this is a quick or lazy recording. Disney wants everyone to experience the musical, and that’s how they’ve shot it.

It’s Disney, of course it’s a bit predictable

Yes, there’s a romance sub-plot I could do without including a boy, a girl and an Alan Menken love duet. By the end of Act One, I could see the ending coming but not how we’d get there. I cared about the characters and wanted to come back to watch more.

And ultimately, that’s why you should go see Newsies. Its exceptionally high production values brings a bit of Disney Broadway predictability, comfort and fun to your local cinema. Book your tickets and enjoy. You can watch Songs of Praise on catch-up. What else would you do on a Sunday afternoon?

Newsies: The Broadway Musical is in selected UK cinemas on Sunday 19th February, and various dates internationally. Check www.newsiesthemusical.com to find out where it’s screening near you and book tickets.

Next on My Gay Agenda is Rent, Wicked and Moonlight.

My Gay Agenda: Dreamgirls

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Every man has his own special dream, and last week at the Savoy Theatre that dream was about to come true. 35 years after its Broadway debut, Dreamgirls has finally made it to the West End. The show (totally not based on Diana Ross or The Supremes in any way) follows black girl group The Dreams from the start of their music career in 1960s Motown America, and tracks the relationships and power plays that define what happens next.

It is very Broadway, very slick and very sparkly. There was more wigs and sequins than any show I’ve seen before, and that includes Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I couldn’t help compare what I was seeing back to the polished 2004 film version. This production felt louder and more colourful, which I’m not sure was always welcome. I could feel the 1980s datestamp a bit too keenly on Step Into The Bad Side and Family. And a particular annoyance was the new duet version of Listen. If it’s not Beyoncé and Burke, I don’t want to know.

What makes this Dreamgirls production exceptional is the casting. Even more than the movie, the stage show is about Effie White’s transformation. Of course Amber Riley got a standing ovation for the iconic And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. She deserved a bigger one halfway through Act Two for I Am Changing, providing a rawness that just doesn’t let up. Jimmy Early is the other standout character, perfected by Adam J Bernard as he shares the James Brown-style soul and passion. The show isn’t revolutionary. I’m not sure it’s a ‘must-see’ but if you get tickets you won’t be disappointed.

Dreamgirls is booking until October 2017

 

Dirty Dancing

There’s another 60s and 80s throwback on offer from the touring production of Dirty Dancing though I wouldn’t recommend it. I was expecting a jukebox musical. Instead I got a very-faithful stage reproduction of a film I haven’t seen, with very sparse live singing. The cast were competent on their own yet I couldn’t buy into the holiday romance between bad boy Johnny (Lewis Griffiths) and innocent teenager ‘Baby’ (Katie Hartland). the whole show was cluttered with too many scene changes and too many characters not saying much. I pined just a little for Johnny and his arms of steel during that lift, but there wasn’t enough dancing or believability to make me want to see it or the film ever again.

Dirty Dancing continues touring the UK until September

Speak It’s Name and Andrew Salgado

There’s two small exhibitions at Trafalgar Square right now. The National Portrait Gallery has Speak It’s Name, a quick filler for a blank wall that combines quotes and photos of seven LGB people. Three of them are Will Young, Tom Daley and Ben Whishaw. Their photos and quotes told me nothing. If you’re already in the gallery, mooch your way to view it but don’t make a stand alone trip.

Instead, head to Andrew Salgado‘s exhibition across the Square at the Canadian High Commission (the flags obviously tell you where to go). Ten features imposing, bigger than life-size portraits and mixed media paintings. They’re bold, colourful, textured, despairing and witty. My favourite pieces were 20 Years and The Joke (centre and right above). Each painting commands being appreciated and analysed up close alongside the detailed notes in the free exhibition leaflet. This is a must see if you’re by Trafalgar Square, whether you’ve got 20 minutes or 2 hours to spare.

Speak It’s Name is at the National Portrait Gallery until 29th October and has an accompanying book. Ten is at the Canadian High Commission until 27th February.

Next month I’m seeing Rent, Wicked and a special cinema screening of Broadway musical Newsies

My Gay Agenda: 2016 review and 2017 preview

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At the start of June I started lapping up and looking out for queer culture and news, which turned out to be exactly the right time to escape the world. Then in October, I started blogging my reviews along with #LGBTQProgress news. So here’s a look back at what I’ve loved in 2016 (mainly since the summer) and what’s coming up in 2017. I know we’ll want to dive into culture and keep escaping the world this year too.

Books

There’s a commonality of desire and experience that any reader can relate to in Garth Greenwell’s astonishingly accomplished debut novel, What Belongs to You. The kind of modern literature that my Mum wouldn’t like for it’s lack of speech marks (and tales of cruising in Bulgarian bathrooms), it’s best read in one or two Sunday sofa afternoons rather than on the commute.

Matthew Todd’s Straight Jacket: How To Be Happy and Gay is a breakthrough book showing how the shame of growing up gay in a heteronormative society undeniably feeds into a problematic scene of drinks, drugs, body shaming and racism. It’s weighty and wordy but ultimately life-affirming. I started seeing an LGBT counsellor when I finished reading it. Queer: A Graphic History by Meg John Barker and Julia Scheele was an equally revelatory and comprehensive read to me with it’s accessible introduction to queer theory. For a more leisurely, humour-led look at the gay scene today there’s North Morgan’s third novel Love Notes To Men Who Don’t Read.

I’m making 2017 the year I catch up on four Patrick Ness books still sitting on my shelf ahead of his next YA fiction Release in May. And two of my LGBT faith role models have new books: Rev Richard Cole’s second memoir came out at the end of 2016, with Vicky Beeching’s first book following later in year.

Music

I fell in love with Bright Light Bright Light (off stage he’s Rod from Wales) and his third album Choreography. My favourites from this homage to 1980s dance movies are Running Back to You, Into The Night and Where Is The Heartache. The Guardian nailed it calling him ‘painstakingly optimistic’: he’s a sheer joy to watch live.

I was backing Hear Them Calling by Iceland’s Greta Salome to win, but in the best ever Eurovision Song Contest (watch a reminder below) it didn’t make it out of the semi-finals. National song selections for ESC 2017 have already started. Britain’s entry will be decided by BBC Two viewers within 90 minutes on Friday 27th January, while Sweden’s six-week long Melodifestivalen starts a week later. I’m also long overdue hearing more of Tegan and Sara in 2017 than just Everything is Awesome and somehow I’ve not yet blessed my ears with Christine and the Queens.

Film and TV

My six-year old nephew can’t work out if my best friend is Tigger or Emmet so it’s no surprise my favourite films of 2016 were Zootropolis, Moana and Kubo and the Two Strings. All three are nominated for Best Animation at tonight’s Golden Globes, the opener of Awards season and that time of the year when there’s too many good films to see. I’m just wiping away my tears from seeing A Monster Calls (there’s Patrick Ness again). Musical La La Land opens this Thursday, 12th January and Moonlight which tells the story of a young gay black American follows on Oscars weekend itself, Friday 24th February.

There’s still time to watch Pride on iPlayer and another British film, The Pass in selected cinemas (presumably before a home video release later this year). Doctor Who spin-off Class (written by yes, Patrick Ness) is also free to watch on iPlayer until the Autumn. Landmark TV for 2017 will come from Dustin Lance Black’s drama When We Rise, tracking five decades of American LGBT activism. For a British history, look out for BBC documentaries to mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, British Museum and National Trust are all marking the anniversary too.

Theatre

In August I met Aimee from the LGBTQ Arts Review blog, and confessed I hadn’t seen any LGBTQ theatre before. Two weeks later I changed that with The Chemsex Monologues by Patrick Cash. His follow-up The HIV Monologues featured the same depth of description, wit and authenticity and is playing in London again this winter. More powerful monologues and scenes came from After Orlando reflecting on the Pulse Orlando shooting. The big gay plays to get in your diary now are Strangers in Between, opening this week at the King’s Head Theatre and Angels in America from April at the National Theatre.

The big show I haven’t seen yet is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but as it’s the theatrical event of a lifetime, it’s sure to run and run and continue releasing more seats. The other big show (there are only two) opens in November. Hamilton tickets are on general sale from January 30th.

Musicals are my big theatre love. Even in the cheapest restricted view seats, Groundhog Day was phenomenal. Old favourite Sister Act, still touring, obviously fed my soul while Ghost is also unfortunately still touring. This month I’m off to see Dreamgirls, Dirty Dancing and Rent and I’m already eyeing up a return to Wicked and La Cage Aux Folles before Easter.

That’s a quiet year ahead for me. What films, shows, books and music are on your gay agenda for 2017? Comment below and tweet using #MyGayAgenda.

A huge hat tip to yesterday’s Guardian for their 2017 previews and February’s Attitude magazine.

My Gay Agenda: After Orlando

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‘They’re not dead, the names we keep saying and keep calling out. They’re not dead.’

The Vaults, in the arches of Waterloo station with trains rumbling above every ten minutes is the right theatre space to grieve, ask questions, think. After Orlando, performed by Chaskis Theatre did just that on Monday, six months to the day of the horrific event.

A collection of over 60 short monologues and scenes by different playwrights, After Orlando has been performed across the world this Autumn and Winter. Monday night showcased 22 of those readings with an 11-strong ensemble cast, and they were all strong. It’s impossible to place the talent of one cast member above the others.

A range of characters took to the stage. The older man reminded of the roll call of honour for Aids victims in New York as a young Latino man reads out the 49 victim names. The tired but determined mother, travelling the world with her shopping trolley on a one-woman gun amnesty. The gay son asking ‘would my mother claim my dead body?’ as his boyfriend tries to give him a blowjob.

These five minute scenes mostly only gave time to hear one-dimensional voices, yet together the narratives of gun control, discrimination and populist discourses came through. Two scenes in particular saw characters trying to piece together the complexities of it all. There was the christian Chick-Fil-A worker who asks ‘don’t we need more than just prayer? as she struggles, like us all, to reconcile the unlimited joy of a night out with the terror that happened. And a visiting tourist on holiday wondered what ‘one narrative to stick to’: Islamic terrorism, mental health, masculinity or gun control?

There was humour alongside the anger and disbelief. That’s the narrative of 2016 isn’t it? There’s so much despair, we have to laugh at it just to get through. Everybody Gets A Stick stood out as a parent/teacher meeting reduced the ridiculousness of gun control to every child on the playground having sticks to hit each other with. And one biting line stayed with me in the immediate hazy reaction to the shooting. A drag queen hides in the toilets, but finds lawmakers blocking her way:

Can we have your blood? We need to write a policy and we don’t have a pen.’

22 scenes was a lot to pack in, and I could dissect each one if only I could remember them, or get my hands on the full script (I’d be first in line to buy the full collection). Half that number in one act would have been enough. Every scene was read faultlessly and fluidly, with some sensitive acoustic songs including a slowed down version of Dancing On My Own, which I did not hate. (For any doubters, the curtain call was to Robyn and the only recorded version of that song in existence.

The Orlando Pulse Shooting on Sunday 12th June was a moment. Pivotal, watershed, historical? None of those descriptions seems right but the event, media reporting and non-reporting, outpouring of grief and vigils around the world instantly showed it to be a moment; perhaps ‘the biggest for us and that’s really important’, as one character noted while watching the rolling news. After Orlando was a powerful reminder of that through anger and hope. The issues at its core are still there and largely unchanged, now with a (Republican) elephant in the room. I left asking, what’s my place now, after Orlando? Because we all have one, and I sure don’t want to waste it.

Next week, of course I’ll be doing an end of year review and 2017 preview.

My Gay Agenda: Love Notes To Men Who Don’t Read

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Ways to feel warmer in the British winter #43: read Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read by North Morgan. The story follows Konrad as he moves from a cheating boyfriend in London to the beaches and Masc4Masc jocks of California. His journal-style narration starts with that heartbreak and lingers throughout every page as loneliness and listlessness, illuminating the superficial glow of social media and hook-up apps that is a hot topic for gay men who do read. Morgan uses his third novel as the device to comment on it all with wit, rather than giving us any great plot or deep characterisations.

It’s immensely readable and brought me into the could-be-any-city world of WeHo hook-ups and parties that I’ve never experienced but proscribe to some of the ‘great’ gays I try not lust after on Instagram. Konrad recognises his own internal homophobia and trappings of heteronormativity, his desperate loneliness and belief that at 33 he’s far too old to be on the scene. I was rooting for him to move on. While he leaves the break-up and Facebook stalking behind, he stays trapped in a world he can’t quite love or loathe with no sign of an escape. The final rushed paragraph made me angry and should have been cut altogether, but it’s a solid and consistently funny read that left me asking WTF can we do to change all this.

Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read is published by Limehouse Books

Also this week, Hairspray Live! welcomed everyone to the 60s on Wednesday night in America and shown as live on ITV2 on Friday night. The flawless songs from Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman (who I thought could do no wrong until I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) along with the core message of celebrating diversity made it one of my favourite musicals as soon as it arrived in the UK in 2007, first on film and shortly after on the West End stage.

While Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth and Derek Hough stood out as bringing something distinctive to their characters, the whole production felt a bit hit and miss in trying to merge the best of the stage and film versions to make it work on live TV. At brief moments it was authentic, but most scenes felt flat. While every musical number was largely slick, the plot felt lost, not helped by ad breaks every 10 minutes (thank you ITV2 for disrespecting your audience for an overly-long 200 minutes).  I’ll be streaming Jennifer Hudson’s version of I Know Where I’ve Been for the next week, and while much of the casting and original stage choreography was better in this production of course it’s the 2007 film I’ll stick to for repeat viewing.

And on Tuesday, it felt like Christmas watching Muppet Christmas Carol at Leicester Square’s Prince Charles Cinema, complete with a mini mince pie and mulled wine. Watching my VHS favourite on the big screen for the first time was sheer seasonal joy, especially sharing it with my film blogger friend and general inspiration Sarah. Showings of Muppet Christmas Carol and other Christmas classics continue all month long. Also check out PCC’s Unicorn Nights for LGBTIQUA cinema and treat your ears to Megan Hilty covering Tiny Tim’s Bless Us All.

Next week I’m going to After Orlando at The Vaults, Waterloo.

My Gay Agenda: AIDS Quilt UK

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There’s 259 steps up to St Paul’s Whispering Gallery, where you look down from its iconic dome to the cathedral floor. On Wednesday, the view was a patchwork of colour, with around 30 panels from the UK Aids Memorial Quilt on public display for the first time in over 20 years. The UK pieces of this global project, perhaps the largest piece of folk art in the world, were made by the family and friends of some 384 people who died at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.

As I looked around the quilt, there was a commonality of colour, love and longing for those lost. One highlighted piece that resonated with me was in memory of Rev Virgil Hall, made by his wife Susan on a leather panel. ‘I wanted it to symbolise the many aspects of Virgil’s life,’ she wrote. ‘Virgil was a Christian Minister so the Cross is the main focus. There is also a pink triangle to represent Vigil’s activism and the words ‘Dancing with Angels’ is something I found scribbled in a book in Virgil’s handwriting.’

As we head towards World AIDS Day this Thursday, seeing the quilt and realising altogether there’s more panels than those steps up to the Whispering Gallery was emotional. These are just some of activists, the brothers and sisters, the partners and lovers from our global community. Their lives need to be a living celebration and inspiration to work towards a world without HIV/Aids and the stigma that shockingly still comes with it.

Panels from the Aids Memorial Quilt will be on display at community venues across London next weekend, 3rd and 4th December. World AIDS Day takes places on 1st December so please wear a red ribbon this week.

 

 

Also this week I bought Gay Times, intrigued by the ‘Can you really be gay and Christian?’ front page plug (and yes, cover boy Chris Mears in his pants). The feature itself was more nuanced with Jeremy Pemberton, Vicky Beeching and Ruth Hunt all writing that it’s institutionalised religion and the human church that can be homophobic, not all all-loving God. All three are well informed voices to hear, but I would have compiled an article with diverse LGBT people of all faiths. The whitewashing of the gay press was touched upon again this week in Owen Jones’ Guardian column, though a casual look at Attitude and GT covers from this year shows how they’re actively amplifying more black and minority voices.

 

I’m a huge advocate of buying and supporting quality journalism. My regular reading focuses on The Observer, Attitude and New Internationalist, who recently published a global perspective on PrEP. Your local library might have print or digital copies of LGBT magazines to access, and you can read free weekly scene magazines like QX online (just be warned there are explicit ads towards the back pages).

Attitude, Gay Times and Diva all have digital subscription offers for Black Friday weekend around £15 for a year.

 

And I’ve just come back from Sister Act at my local theatre. This tour choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood adds a bit more fun to the original production that had a criminally short run in the West End. Alan Menken’s songs and the book are tweaked slightly while the cast double up as the orchestra to give a bigger live sound than you’d get from any other touring musical. It felt slow to get going, and could have been trimmed at parts but the show just got more joyful as it went on and the ensemble numbers kept coming. You leave blessed by the story of faith and sisterhood. Even if you’ve seen it on screen or stage before (and I’m losing count of how many times I have), this production gives it a fresh feel-good feeling.

Sister Act is playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre from this Monday and continues touring into 2017.

Next week I’ll be reviewing North Morgan’s book Love Notes To Men Who Don’t Read and proving I’m one who does.

My Gay Agenda: Queer: A Graphic History

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Icon Books have been publishing their flagship Introducing series in the UK for forty years, using cartoons to illustrate key thinking in politics, sociology, science and more. Queer: A Graphic History is the latest addition. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele provide the words and cartoons respectively.

The book weaves over 100 years of queer studies and thinking together, so don’t be misled by ‘history’ in the title and expect a neat timeline story from Stonewall to same-sex marriage. I studied Politics and Sociology at university and lapped up getting my head round academic writing away from over-referenced journal articles.

Icon Books

Icon Books

Queer shines a spotlight on key thinkers including Foucault and Butler (names I’d heard before, but not their ideas) to try and summarise where academic queer thinking has come so far in recognising, defining and deconstructing queer experiences in a heteronormative world.

Barker and Scheele have done an incredible job in reducing down a whole sociological discipline into 175 accessible pages. As they state throughout, what’s the point of all this thinking if ordinary people can’t read it and use it? Yet there is almost too much to take in, with some sections introducing another new academic and new big idea at every page turn. Barker’s words clearly signpost and summarise what you’ve read so far, but breaking the book up into chapters would have helped too.

Scheele’s cartoons add the needed context, diversity and popular culture references to put Barker’s summaries of ideas into the real world. I want to return to some of my favourite pages with my pencils to colour the book in and reflect more on what’s been said and what I think.

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Icon Books/Meg-John Barker/Julia Scheele

So what did I learn and think? We live in a heteronormative world (shorthand for also being white, cis gendered and male dominated). Queer studies tries to break down normativity and binaries, while also recognising the role both can play in identity politics and getting voices heard. Binaries are always troublesome and often used as good vs bad, to seek power over those deemed not ‘normal’. I was especially struck by the good/bad binaries we’ve built up for sex (gay, kink and solo being some of the bads) and how gay men risk creating their own troublesome  homonormativity (for more on that, read Matthew Todd).

Recently I was chatting to one of my heterosexual, white, male, cis-gendered colleagues. He’d never heard the term ‘heteronormativity’, but immediately understood it. 175 pages dissecting that might be a bit much for him (and anyone else not automatically interested in queer studies). But I’ll go to the photocopier and share some of the key ideas with him, because I feel better equipped in my growing queer activism, and why I’m doing it. Perhaps we’ll even colour in the pages together.

 

Also this week, I saw The Bodyguard at London’s Dominion Theatre, starring Queen of British Soul (and absolutely everything) Beverley Knight MBE. She is incomparable and owns the show, with all but two or three songs performed by her. There’s a bit of tension working out when the musical should be set: references to going viral and backstage livestreaming jar with the letters sent to popstar Rachel Marron by her stalker and a disconnect from today’s superstar security procedures. It would be best set firmly in 1992, the same year as the film it’s based on.

This isn’t a show with room for character development. The love between Rachel and her bodyguard Frank has less depth to it than any a Tinder first date. But The Bodyguard is a bit more than just a Whitney Houston jukebox musical, with underused chorus boys who were topless within a minute of curtain up.. By Act 2, as Houston’s biggest hits come out, Knight is at her best. That’s why I came to see the show, and why I’ll see whatever she’s in next. Beverley Knight is still one of our most genuine, generous and greatest female performers.