Queer As Fringe is the first of, hopefully, an annual event showcasing the work of Manchester’s gay fringe writers. The format is merciless – allowing only 15 minutes for each of the six plays brings to light shortcomings that longer works might conceal.
Heart Shaped Cravings and The Dark Side of the Rainbow written and directed by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan compress themes of closeted sexuality and the associated hypocrisy and potential for blackmail/disgrace into their short running times. Whilst powerful and moving the former is uneven – the debauched attitudes of Louis more suited to the present than the repressed 1920s in which the play is set. The brevity of the play makes the shock ending seem over the top. The second play, another period piece set at the time of the Stonewall riots, is subtler and benefits from a tormented performance from Bradley Cross.
Show One! - an ensemble piece from The Pink Triangle- is better suited to the 15 minute format. It seeks to challenge homophobia by direct depiction, OTT (and very funny) satire and parody and heartfelt speeches. Despite the occasion slip into purple prose the play hits home in a powerful fashion. It might be even better if the company could stop hedging their bets and settle on a uniform approach instead of trying to offer something for all tastes. The Science Fiction background for their second play – Going Down- adds little to the debate and the tributes to the genre are half-hearted.
If Show One! is a plea for understanding then Adele Stanhope’s cLOOless seems the reverse – a portrait of the customers of the toilets in the Queen’s Bar in Canal Street that is so devoid of sympathy as to make you stay home in future. Just as you’re about to give up in despair of finding a likable character the writer/director gives us a superbly staged cat fight and a charming twist that brings a ray of hope. There is also an opportunity for Lee Eakins to shine as the camp and judgemental (but witty) attendant.
Whilst not immune to the limitations of the format (some of the lines are a bit obvious) writer/ director Craig Hepworth shows what can be achieved in a short time. Numb takes us from a noisy disco to a dingy bedsit. James has projected an image to the world for so long he has forgotten his actual identity. A pair of boldly committed performances from Dale Vickers and Richard Allen graphically, and convincingly, explores James’s redemption.
Queer As Fringe is a welcome addition to the diverse theatre scene in the Manchester area.