“A perfectly enjoyable evening that refuses to take itself seriously whilst underscored with the purest of intentions…

The ‘Queer Cabaret’ proudly displayed the vast variety of Durham’s wonderful queer community: a perfectly enjoyable evening that refuses to take itself seriously whilst underscored with the purest of intentions. Raising money for Humankind’s North East LGBT+ campaign, a charity that aims to “promote the health, wellbeing and equality of LGBT+ people across the North East”, a community-centred spirit remained at the heart of the production. Their guidance and expertise has been crucial for the lives of so many individuals struggling with their identity, giving out most probably life-saving advice to the most at-risk communities. Showcasing a wide range of genres and talents, and encouraging their audience to participate throughout, this production featured a smattering of everything creative.

A word to the incredible compere Eli Fuller, who was constantly upbeat and vulgarly funny. Their confidence and unabashed pride shone out between every act, taking in their stride every error as an additional comedic opportunity. Elizabeth Lea’s tap was the ideal way to warm up the audience: lively and spirited whilst demonstrating huge talent. Next was Suze Hirt’s standup which both entertained and educated, proving they rightfully deserve their place as The Stand’s vice president. The poetry performed and composed by Freya Cook Theo Forcer and Molly Knox was beautifully written and delivered, exploring a wide range of queer love and self-acceptance. The romantic elements of Knox’s poetry were timeless and epithetic whilst Forcer’s verses seemed a nostalgic calling for identity. Cook’s last poem in particular was creatively organised to mimic the rising and falling of affection, moving from youthful glee to heartfelt wisdom.  Xende Rivero-Bowers and Robin Shakespeare’s acoustic musical duo was folksy and lilting, reminiscent of camp-side songs and woodland melodies. Mary’s Dance took over with a female lead medley and enthusiastic passion. They were vibrant and relentlessly energetic, a lovely change of pace and displaying an entirely different kind of creativity. A performance that really stood out to me was Willow Raynor’s sorcery. Despite a somewhat deflated audience reaction (most likely in the face of audience participation, which was made all the more intimidating with the accompanying psych analysis) I thought it was ridiculously impressive, far beyond the quality that you would expect from a student magic act. It was masterfully performed and genuinely unbelievable. Willow has a career in mystification ahead of her. Elizabeth Lea then returned with Isabel Waller for an ode to musical theatre with camp zestyness. Isabelle Evans’ beautiful ballad was soulful and angelic, showing off a ridiculous vocal talent. It really stuck out as a very emotional performance, adding an additional depth to the evening. Gail Brook took to the stage representing Humankind, reaffirming the importance of kindness and understanding in improving society. The necessity of this charitable work cannot be understated. The cabaret rounded up with Kai Heale’s musical medley, ending with a showstopper that I’m sure will be reclaimed as a camp anthem.

Colour and creativity were at the forefront, both in a recycled set lighting and costume. The production was designed to embrace individuality and each act was entirely devoted to individual expression, as well as revering the variety of ways queerness manifests in art. Unfortunately, queer culture at Durham is not always so eagerly embraced, and it is hard to watch the performance without thinking of the many people that would love to be on that stage but feel unable to. The lack of queer spaces in Durham is notable; at best nightclubs will adopt certain days without fully wanting to commit. The pockets of community that are available are hence incredibly welcome and refreshing. ‘Pride’ should not be refined to a month or a marketing strategy but readily encouraged in every aspect of society.

In total the production raised over £450 for Humankind. The cast crew and audience have boosted such an honourable cause whilst also happily indulging in queer joy. Every single person on stage was remarkably and markedly themselves: an identity that’s so often debated and dehumanised proudly celebrated.

By Niamh Hoyland

Photo Credits: DU Performing Arts