REVIEW: THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO LESBIANISM

A play is not a supervision essay

This play starts 'It is difficult to talk about Lesbian history', and in one go it summarises itself. What you see is what you get: it's literally a companion to lesbianism presented in strict chronological order.

There's a fascinating range of performed texts, from exciting 19th-century lesbian poems to moving love letters, and the reactions that early 20th-century lesbian literature elicited are interesting. The more modern anecdotes, such as the opening of the first Lesbian club or Margaret Thatcher's homophobic jurisdiction are also quite gripping stories.

As an educational tool, the play works well, since it made me google the early 20th -century dancer Maud Allan and the details of her prosecution in connection with the article 'The Cult of the Clitoris'.

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Maud Allan

It is also a welcome approach that the play shows not only one type of lesbianism, but a palette of female homosexuality. It gives an important insight into the clash of racial, class related and gender identities and the conflicts within various lesbian communities. It's a pity that this line is not elaborated more.

However, a play is not a supervision essay. Overwhelming data and strict chronology doesn't help it. The play would profit from a more interactive and loose way of presenting these stories.

The diversity of the cast is highly valuable, but the cast's acting abilities are distributed between the professional and the really amateur. Sometimes I felt as if I were a worried mum sitting in on a school gala. In part, it is the fault of the overly didactic directing. But a few actors should practice a bit more before stepping on stage, because worrying over the possible fainting of an actor is not which the audience goes to the theatre for. But keep going. Hopefully, the stuttering, sputtering and restarting of phrases will disappear by the evenings following the premiere.

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The cast

Truth to tell, the letters are essentially difficult monologues, because they lack the contextual situation and the play of other actors which could help in performing the text. In this case, the actor can trust only in her empathy. However, more interaction with the audience or between the actors would truly make a big difference.

Generally, the actors tell their monologues to themselves or to the wall in the corner, and not for the audience or for each other. For this reason, the Gateways Club scene is relief, because it's busy and less detached. It boosts the play for a while, since it creates a lighter, more enjoyable atmosphere, and the actors seem less tense as well. There is even laughter from the relieved audience. For example, they have a good time following Meghan Thomas' quote: "But the actual look of a naked fella that I was supposed to be attracted to just made me think' 'My god, isn't he ugly? Poor bastard, Imagine walking around like that?'"

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The real Gateways Club around 1953/4, LIFE collection.

Harriaet Phillips' first appearance saves the beginning of the play. Becky Shepherdson moves you with her first, emotional letter, and she holds your attention in her later appearances as well. Georgina Taylor and Jessica Murdoch are versatile and more interactive than the majority of the cast. After their initial insecurity, Griffin Twemlow also gives an enjoyable performance.

"Anyhow, remember me as I am, a happy and fulfilled woman." The message is still important.

3/5 stars

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University of Cambridge cambridge companion to lesbianism Cambridge Theatre Corpus Playroom