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Queer Up North - The Story So Far.....

By • Northwest
As I started to write this blog, I stopped to consider what was happening right now throughout the city of Manchester.  Five people were having an intriguing and intimate encounter with five impeccably good-looking performers in a tiny room tucked away in the Midland Hotel.  Over the road, one of the queer performance legends of our time was performing her poetic ode to the body, accompanied by a beautiful classical quartet.  

Just a few streets away, in the heart of the village, the final touches were being put to a pop-up temporary venue made of wood, mirror and stained glass, that would be home to a whole host of international cabaret talent in the coming week. A lively lecture on the relationship between Andy Warhol and Susan Sontag has just taken place in our city’s prestigious university, while over in Hulme a small group of actors had just finished a solo performance masterclass from one of the most engaging solo theatre performers in the world.

In other words, just another day at the office for Queer Up North International Festival!

2010’s festival has been a blast so far, and rightly so. This year, we’ve turned 18 and its fair to say that we’ve been celebrating our coming of age in style.  

We kicked off at the start of the month with the return to Manchester of Quarantine’s Susan & Darren. We placed this ‘event with dancing’ in the flashy surrounds of Sachas Hotel in the Northern Quarter where each night we put on a full buffet and disco for our audience that went on for hours after the performance. The show has since wowed audiences on tour in London, Leicester and Glasgow – but nothing will beat the sheer joy of walking into a hotel function room dressed up like a golden wedding anniversary party and being greeted by one of the most honest, charming and brave pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.

The festival proper began with a new production of 1990’s AIDS play Road Movie by Godfrey Hamilton, which features an astonishing central performance from Mark Pinkosh playing five characters with precision and flair.  After wowing crowds at the Library Theatre, reducing several audience members to tears on a regular basis, it is currently doing the same around the country with a small regional tour to Sheffield, Kendal and Plymouth.

A few feathers were ruffled with a trilogy of new solo plays, collectively entitled Three at Contact. We commissioned three very different contemporary theatre makers to come up with their own theatrical response to ‘queer’, with full artistic freedom to interpret that word in any way they wanted.  Some audiences were uncomfortable that the resulting monologues didn’t quite fit their own particular definition of queer. But I think that is exactly the kind of self-questioning and exploration that a festival like Queer Up North should be doing. When we use a loaded word like ‘queer’, what do we mean – and what could we mean?

Our18th Birthday Bash on Sunday was a riot. We took over the Carlton Club in Whalley Range for an evening of authentic working men’s club entertainment, hosted by stage hypnotist Derek Diamond – the new comedy creation from the man behind Tina C, Christopher Green. With show stopping cameos from Ursula Martinez and Mrs Barbara Nice, a decent spread of sausage rolls laid out on the pool table, and a few hidden surprises amongst the audience, it is certainly a night that will stick in the memory for a long time to come.

We’re now approaching the final stage of the festival, with the opening of our Spiegeltent season on Wednesday. Inside this stunning 1940’s wooden and mirrored performance space, we have a jaw-droppingly wonderful line up of cabaret talent, including some all-time Queer Up North favourites such as Taylor Mac and Justin Bond, both direct from NYC, alongside some fresh new faces – twisted aerialist Empress Stah and kamikaze cabaret sensation Meow Meow.  If you find yourself at a loose end over the bank holiday weekend, I seriously recommend a trip down to experience the glamour and hedonism of the Queer Up North Spiegeltent before it disappears on 31st May. 

For further details, please visit the website.

- Ric Watts


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