“takes audiences on an unpredictable and ultimately fulfilling journey to self-discovery”
“This Queer House” is a delightfully strange, unique take on the contact zones between queer lives, history, and the non-queer world at large. It (mostly) avoids trite observations and instead uses symbolism and striking imagery to make its point about space, place and identity.
In Oakley Flanagan’s explosive and challenging script, a young queer couple, Oli (Liv Ello) and Leah (Humaira Iqbal), move into a house inherited by a dead uncle. But the house has a history. A male builder (Lucia Young) is called in to do some renovation work and the disruption does more than just alter the house. In a series of scenes, the house’s legacy is unleashed, branding itself on the queer pair trying to live their new life together: the expectations of owning property, gender roles, and questions of conformity arise as the house slowly gets messier and messier. Will the couple survive this interrogation with the past? You’ll have to see it to find out.
Directed by Masha Kevinovna of the OPIA Collective, this piece’s strengths lie in the montage that takes up the second half of the production. Taking us through the history of the house in disconnected moments, sometimes with text, sometimes without, Kevinovna conjures the dreamy landscape of memory and history. Young, playing multiple roles, is stunning to watch, and here is given license to really go for it. From South London builder to rigid 50s housewife, Young is physically precise, loud, clear, in control and unpredictable. It’s their performance that keeps this play such an exciting watch.
As the piece slips away from the conventional opening few scenes, Ben Ramsden’s compelling, unsettling score is also given time to shine. Reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s work on “Psycho”, Ben twists the action towards the horrific, indeed the melodramatic, but nonetheless keeps building up the feeling of dread. Cara Evans’ design is similarly effective. The house is white tape, with wooden window and door frames dotted in the corners. The tape poses as a boundary, but of course is easily traversed, altered. There is a real sense of cohesion between all aspects of this production which is what makes watching so strangely compelling.
Iqbal and Ello don’t quite gel as a couple on stage and both need to relax and settle into the characters more as the run goes on. That aside, this was an intriguing night at the theatre. By being daring with form and content, “This Queer House” takes audiences on an unpredictable and ultimately fulfilling journey to self-discovery.
A PVC backdrop. Deep red sofa covered in plastic. A tray with two needles sitting poised for action. Banging music rings in your ears. The stage is set for a dark and disturbing evening that will question where pleasure ends and pain begins. A queer “American Psycho”? A messy murder mystery? The show in question is “Sex/Crime”, Alexis Gregory’s startlingly original new play returning to London at the Soho Theatre.
In thickly lyrical prose, “A” (Jonny Woo) and “B” (Gregory) meet in a mysterious room in a city in turmoil. Paying good money to have famous gay murders recreated on his body, “B” is prepared to be submissive, to give himself up to death and pleasure. “A”, offering him punches and slaps for a pre-arranged price, is clinical in his approach. But talk turns to “Him”, to the world outside, to love, to passion. “A”’s professional demeanour breaks down, and it isn’t long before the men’s roles take a surprising turn.
Woo gives an authoritative performance as “A”, his size bringing a unique presence to the low-ceilinged Upstairs theatre at Soho. Gregory is his ideal counterpart. Built with the shoulders of a bodybuilder, “B” is a high-pitched Londoner, almost camp, his movements precise and words even more so. Together, they make an excellent double act. The comedy rarely stops, and the references are topical. At one point Woo references EU regulations on breaks: “I’m holding on to those as long as I can” he notes, witheringly.
Directed by Robert Chevara, the two figures dance around each other, playing with distance and proximity with shocking effect. Movement is precise, pointed and poised. If things seem a little hyper-active, it matches the high octane, high adrenaline situation (not to mention all the drugs). Rocco Venna’s set leaves a strong impression in the imagination and Mike Robertson’s lighting design sees an almost clinical light beam up at the actors’ faces throughout. It’s certainly unsettling and gives those blackouts an added touch of menace.
The final third was where I started to wane, and the script seemed to lose a little bit of focus. What seemed grounded in a specific, yet unfamiliar, reality, falls away, making the final moments of twisting and turning a little less potent. Gorgeous as the finale of montages is, I wish it ended as punchy as it started.
This audience was in bits though, and hung on every moment. With strong leads and an even stronger sense of style, “Sex/Crime” is certainly an enjoyable spectacle. Dark comedy drips from the ceiling like PVC sheets and the energy on stage is palpable and infectious. As a new piece of writing, Gregory’s voice shines and is certainly one to keep an eye out for. “Riot Act” is still one of my favourite shows in recent years, and I can only wait with anticipation as to what original idea strikes Gregory next. In the meantime, do check out this explosive and surprising show while it’s here.