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Queering Cambridge, one play at a time

My little gay heart wants more drama.

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As I’m going into my second year, my excitement for the future of Cambridge’s theatre scene is only made stronger by the ever-growing quantity and quality of queer narratives on display. Some of the best reviewed shows from last year were nuanced, sensitive, and humorous depictions of LGBTQ+ life. One such of these brilliant productions, Snow Orchid, received 4.5/5 from The Tab and awesome praise from the general student body. I was lucky enough to see it, and I have to admit that it made me cry.

Snow Orchid was one of several shows last year produced by the Cambridge University Queer Players (CUQP), only just formed in June 2017, and boy did it impress – a seamless production, it was able to deftly bring great depth and humanity to each character’s story. One of the things I loved most about Snow Orchid though was how it was never framed as a “gay play”, but rather as an exploration of a queer narrative within a wider context. With standing ovations from the first night, the CUQP had put on a show that marked them as a force to be reckoned with. Speaking to the co-founders of the Players, Sophie Leydon and Gabriel Humphreys, with such determination and purpose it's easy to see why:

"Queer Players was an idea we had over a year ago while putting together our Fringe show, with a twofold aim. First, to take positive action against the glaring lack of nuanced queer narratives anywhere in the Cambridge theatre scene, and second to create space both on and off stage for queer creatives. From there, it spiralled – in a year we staged 3 productions across 3 spaces, with over 60 people involved, and most recently established a committee of 8 to take the company forward."

"In association with CUQP this Michaelmas, Pembroke Players is doing a first in UK student theatre – staging an entire queer season, so you can already see the landscape changing. We hope that more and more people will want to pitch their shows under the QP mantle, and that in the not too distant future we will acquire funding with which to have financial as well as creative agency over our shows."

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Clemi Collett as Filumena and Gabriel Wheble as Blaise in Snow Orchid. (Evelina Gumileva)

They’re right to talk about the ‘landscape changing’, for brilliant queer theatre is also making its mark elsewhere: one of the best sketches of last year found the Footlights' Noah Geelan and Leo Reich (in Pen Pals) singing an uproariously funny and surprisingly touching song about one night stands, and Billie Collins followed up her acclaimed production Spiders with the tender episodic play Stormface (This as Well), a fantastic look at femininity and queerness in several different forms, and just like Snow Orchid it made me shed a tear. I went to see both of these plays with mostly straight groups of friends, and I was struck by just how much more emotional it made me. Now I’ll admit, I can be a soppy son of a bitch at the best of times, but penchant for getting too invested in my feelings aside, there’s something especially moving about watching such sensitive, thoughtful depictions of you and your community when you’re so used to the spotlight shining elsewhere. It’s like being the last person picked for a team at school, to then be told that not only are you captain of both teams, but the boys who would make fun of you for being bad at sport are now your personal cheerleaders. In short – it’s fabulous.

I knew Cambridge was going to be pretty queer before I got here – after all, according to The Tab’s very own 2014 survey, this is the university with the highest proportion of LGBTQ+ students in the UK (19%), and whilst Glitterbomb can provide some well-needed hours of unadulterated gayness, the theatre scene is slowly but surely revealing itself to be the lead queer voice of the student body. Many great queer names have come out of 'CamDram' – think Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig – and the consistent work of those who came before us has lead to a present moment where the queer experience can be explored in such a normalised way – it's now our turn to tell the story.

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Stephen Fry and other famous faces in the Footlights.

The new year is on the horizon, and I couldn’t be more excited for what it’s bringing to Cambridge theatre – the freshers are nearly here, now’s the time to stay queer.