Queer Words

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Thomas Pymer

at 00:23 on 23rd Aug 2018

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A mixture of word play, interpretative dance, LGBT+ activism and music, 'Queer Words' is the latest brainchild of the Autin Dance Theatre. It is difficult to know exactly what to think of the result, which seemed at times to be a performance which was breaking out of itself.

The most notable thing about this performance was the dancing and physical theatre. Although I was perpetually unclear exactly what the dancers were trying to represent, they nonetheless brought atmosphere and strength to the performance and it would have been poorer without them. The dancers represented themselves as being tortured, predatory or trapped. There were occasional “blink-and-you’ll-miss-them” moments in which themes of suicide were bluntly presented. There were also occasions when it seemed as if the performers were struggling against their own bodies, perhaps a representation of fighting with themselves and their desires.

The second thing which 'Queer Words' used to enormous effect was their use of language. It was poetic, poignant and in some cases very beautiful. The phrase “Trying to express the unsayable” came to mind on more than one occasion as the actors bounced lines off each other, often blurting out what seemed to be total non-sequiturs which later turned out to weave together to try and express something far bigger. There were two speeches in particular, one a hard-hitting sexual description and the other a soliloquy on the meanings of the colour yellow (with an emphasis on the blending of freedom and uncertainty), which had real power and impact.

For a performance which prided itself on being a serious activist piece, it was refreshing to see moments of comedy – most notably in a scene made up entirely of various advertisements. The humour did not detract from the performance. Far from it, it actually created a juxtaposition which intensified the message (in the case of the adverts scene, a message about body image and products which advertise to men by playing on a sense of masculinity).

Attention must also be given briefly to the lights, which were effectively deployed, creating everything from a disco to a stark and desperate landscape, and the costumes, which, though comparatively simple, were still quite a sight to behold and definitely added to the performance.

'Queer Words' presents itself as an activist performance informed by of the experiences of the performers. Undercurrents and little suggestions in dancing and speeches pointed to family struggles and self-hatred, and most of the time it seemed as if the performers were really playing an exaggerated version of themselves, showing struggles that even the LGBT+ community can have with the correct gender pronouns.

However, I wonder if the activist message did get a little lost. The language was beautiful, but it was done in a waltzing way which made it hard to pick out the grains of meaning from the metaphor and poetry that surrounded them. There was something ethereal about it all, so any message was more hinted at than overtly stated. Considering the gender-fluidity which formed an integral part of it, it was often impossible to tell if an actor was playing themselves, multiple characters or indeed any character at all. In my opinion, this confusion was the performances Achilles’ heel; I left slightly unsure of whether or not I had genuinely understood it.

In short, then, Queer Words was new and interesting; indeed, possibly the most interesting thing I have yet seen at the Fringe depth-wise. It was complicated to follow, but it carries both empathy and poetry.

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Tara Snelling

at 08:24 on 23rd Aug 2018

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Flashing rainbow lights and booming ABBA’s 'Dancing Queen' seem ready to set up a happy-go-lucky, feel good show. It is only when all three performers stand on the stage motionless, steadfast, powerful, that is becomes abundantly clear this will not be the case.

It is hard to describe the show - the performance bio markets it officially as “a bold, provocative multi-disciplinary performance combining story-telling, spoken word, dance and physical theatre” with an all LGBTQ cast. Dance, it seems, is not just for the 'young and sweet at only seventeen' – instead, it is a means of grappling with the idea of being powerful and powerless, and the many states in between. ‘Queer Words’ explores a societal prejudice, and the internalisation of self-hatred through a collection of personal stories and sketches. Sketches go to the extreme in order to fully express the pain of being labelled as ‘other’. The words are not supposed to simply comfort, but consciously discomfort. The show is an unleashing of anxiety, a cathartic outpouring of emotion through pointed sketches, frenzied movement, and well-chosen words.

The physical theatre is spellbinding, and the choreography pivots between primal and elegant. There is always a rawness, a sense that this dance is expressing the human and the animal. Matched with poetic accompaniment, the moves become extensions for the expression of raw feelings – one particular moment is expressed by Oliver Sale in the bathroom, frightened about coming out to his mum, a combination of balletic and frantic. Clothes are put on, taken off, nearly there – there is a sense of a rejection of fabrication and conformation, yet its essential purpose is to express. Joshua Toft-Wild is incredible: graceful but always moving with such might and dynamism. It is also worth mentioning the very well thought-out lighting design – playing upon the tradition single spotlight, with strobe lighting, and the final effect end with joyous, pulsating lights.

The most touching sketch for me is performed by Bethany Slinn and Oliver Sale, as Bethany sings on her bed and grapples with the emotional unloadings of her partner, and the power dynamic of this relationship. Her voice is like liquid gold; breath-taking, almost haunting. This is closely followed by a sketch in which advertising jargon and performance is satirised to the extreme, and yet still expresses the daily things which are presented to us as ‘fixes’ or cures’. The ‘Queer Alphabet’ is also incredibly powerful, although I notice any form of ‘asexual’ identities are absent from the line-up, even from the initial A.

Oftentimes, I don’t understand the exact meaning of sketches. However, obviously, not all of them are for me. The sometimes nebulous or indeterminate content never takes away from its power – the sense they create is visceral, and it sometimes seems so much more about feeling than exact meaning.

Go to witness a dazzling expression of activitism, and feel something raw, but ultimately empowering and celebratory.

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