Theatre Review: Homotopia 2015: Scratch And See, Unity Theatre, Liverpool

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Unity Theatre

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Show
Genre: Variety
Date: November 3 2015
Location: Unity Theatre, Liverpool, England

As part of the 2015 Homotopia festival, the Unity Theatre hosted Scratch and See, a variety show of sorts in that there were three very different acts, all with the same message of promoting one’s rights to embrace their true personality and desires (some more subtle than others). Each section lasted around 20 minutes apiece, and the three-part showcase covered the entire quality scale.

The evening opened with Freddy & Frida, which was an unusual double act. Apparently hailing from Switzerland, and allegedly influenced by The Gods of Cheese, the two-some were something of a Eurovision parody as they delivered several songs which were either past Eurovision tunes or were similar to those seen at the annual music festival (by that, I mean the lyrics didn’t make much sense; not that this is a knock on the likes of past Eurovision performers ABBA and, erm, Jedward). This was accompanied by some deliberately hammy dance moves and facial expressions, and with the performers themselves donning 1970s-style wigs and flamboyant attires. I wasn’t quite sure what the underlying message of this act was. A parody, yes, but of what? They did discuss cheese a lot, and I have heard of cheesing (thanks to South Park; look it up, it’s quite funny actually), but I’m unclear as to what their purpose was.

It’s hard to judge this act, because whether they were entertaining or not depends on your sense of humour (the music wasn’t to be taken seriously; at least, I don’t think so). I personally didn’t find this act to be particularly funny. Had they performed one song on a family cabaret show, they might have succeeded in getting a few laughs. In a 20-minute routine, they didn’t get much more than a few titters (had it been longer, chopping that latter word in half might have described what people could have acted like to the performance). The production itself felt a bit amateurish, too; had slightly more care been taken to the video footage and the graphics used, this may have had slightly more impact. And while the whole act was clearly some sort of homage, there were times when you weren’t quite sure if Freddy and Frida were being serious or not with their accents and their backstory (I would assume they’re actually native Liverpudlians putting the accent on, but I’m not certain of that). I would best describe this as being inoffensive yet not that enjoyable. Had they previously auditioned on The X Factor and been shown on TV as a rejected novelty act, they might have had more appeal. As it was, their filler jokes between acts about cheese puns, usually designed to get minor giggles, ended up being the best part of their routine. Fortunately, it was a kind audience who watched this bit; another, less receptive crowd may not have been so welcoming of Freddy & Frida.

That being said, the mood was always positive and upbeat with these two, which is largely the opposite to that of act number two. Jamal Gerald’s story was called FADoubleGOT, and dealt a lot more explicitly with homosexuality and the difficulties he faced by being gay throughout his life. Jamal told his life story from childhood back in the United States, where he felt a secret crush on a boy at school, to his family coming over to the UK and him still being a closet homosexual, and how he prayed to God to say that he was not a sinner once his devoutly religious mother had learned via a poem that he was gay, only to see him become more positive, confident and proud of his homosexuality once he discovered Freddy Mercury and Queen.

To be honest, although it was noted beforehand that there would be strong language and references to drugs and sex, the name of this performance was probably the most – if the only – controversial aspect. Drug references were very brief, talk of sex was limited to a brief reference to blowjobs, and “s–t” was the only swear word, and even that was only used in passing. The standout elements of this were Jamal’s honesty in discussing taboo subjects, the intimate feel to the performance (the Unity Theatre set-up means that those on the first few rows were very close to the stage) and the general feel that coming to terms with one’s homosexuality and eventually accepting it had been a major challenge for Jamal. The tone of this was very serious, almost upsetting at times, before ending on a positive note. The darkness in the room during the show made it feel more unpredictable, and not in a good way, as you wouldn’t know what to expect from such an act. Nevertheless, Jamal’s story was delivered articulately and effectively, it was always engaging to the audience, and hopefully his story may inspire others who have faced similar challenges in life. Whether it worked in this environment (mixed between two comedy acts, after all) is debatable, but it definitely had an impact.

The mood was lifted for the final act, which was by far the most entertaining and memorable part of the evening. Although this was written by a good friend of mine (Paul Burke), it doesn’t alter the fact that The Rise and Fall of The Hamburger Queen was a very funny stand-up comedy performance by Ashleigh Owen. At times using song and imagery, Ashleigh’s routine worked because her material was strong, the laughs came thick and fast, and her Scouse accent made her delivery of some lines funnier; arguing with her mother, for example, could have been seen as unpleasant if written down, but when performed in this show, it was hilarious. There was plenty of swearing too, which some may be aghast at (like those people who write into the Liverpool Echo complaining about the most trivial of matters). My pure self would of course never use such terminology. That being said, I heard loads of swearing and I didn’t give a f–k.

Ashleigh deserves credit too for including material that pointed fun at her own weight, for this only seemed to make her a more confident performer, a comedian and a woman who doesn’t care what people think of her; she won’t let anybody prevent her from chasing her dreams. And those dreams consisted of her wanting to become a professional dancer, and moreover, knowing in her heart that she can be successful by following in the footsteps of her father (who was also a dancer). Along the way, which included a trip to London where she freely admitted to being excited by seeing certain cafes and restaurants, she encountered resistance from her mum who wouldn’t accept her daughter’s career choice, but Ashleigh remained adamant that she would go for it, and so she began her journey to potential stardom.

This was only a small portion of a long show, in which you will discover what else Ashleigh encountered along the way. If you get the chance to see it, I strongly recommend that you do, as it is very funny. In the Homotopia environment, one also suspects that the show acted as an alternative, hilarious, version of what people have to go through when discovering, embracing and chasing their homosexual desires (as seen with Jamal), from finding a calling to proclaiming their pursuing of it to going out and making it happen. This was definitely the highlight of the night, and you’re bound to be laughing when watching this. Besides, if the deliberately crude drawing of a man’s you-know-what being randomly thrown in with a montage of baby-to-woman pictures of Ashleigh doesn’t make you smirk, nothing will.

So, in the end, this hour of Homotopia had a bit of everything, from a bless-them-they-tried parody to an occasionally uncomfortable yet engaging one-man story to a genuinely funny and over-the-top comedy show. I would definitely recommend seeing Ashleigh perform her full routine, and you may hear a bit about Jamal’s story in future too. Freddy & Frida? Erm, I’m not so sure about them. But regardless, it was a fun night at the Unity Theatre, and there will be plenty of other acts, covering a wide range of forms, as Homotopia continues in Liverpool until Tuesday December 1. Also note that the rating below is for the show as a whole, as some parts were better than others.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good