The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs at Soho Theatre – review
Iman Qureshi's play runs until 11 June
You don't know who will turn up, but every week anywhere between two to six women come together to sing in a small community hall with a roof that leaks. Mugs on the floor collect the rainwater and the light switch is hard to reach above some loose boxes. But Connie, the choir's enthusiastic director (played with wonderful spirit by Shuna Snow) turns up, always smiling and ready. Welcome to a year in the life of the UK's only lesbian choir.
Or rather, welcome to a choir for all lesbian-identifying people, bisexuals included, cis and trans women included, and non-binary people included: "Everyone is welcome! Let's all just get along," says Connie.
But it's not easy. After one member goes viral for accidentally wearing a trans-exclusionary T-shirt, they are banned from performing at Pride forever. What starts off as a bit of fun turns into anger and hurt, and nobody wants to talk to each other anymore. The play's first half is so funny that your stomach aches from laughter – before it goes sour in a second half that feels all too real in the current political climate.
There's too much going on – too many themes and none of them quite get explored fully. The story of Dina, the closeted Qatari lesbian in danger of deportation, feels like it could be a play in itself. Iman Qureshi, the play's writer, wrote about Muslim attitudes to same-sex relationships in The Funeral Director, which won the Papatango New Writing Prize in 2018. But in The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, the community split is so bad that almost nobody cares that their friend could be deported to a homophobic country.
It helps that the cast's performances are touching, and their colourful costumes are beautifully on trend – there are beanies, undercuts, and North Face puffer jackets. Kibong Tanji's Black butch lesbian Lori oozes sex appeal while capturing the hurt from having a family that doesn't accept her and Claudia Jolly's Ana constantly expresses the frustration of being an invisible bisexual woman in a space labelled ‘lesbian'. Mariah Louca gives a gentle, tender performance as the kind-hearted Bridget, Snow is perfectly cast as the energetic, straight-backed, androgynous musical director, and Fanta Barrie, Kiruna Stamell and Lara Sawalha all bring a lot of humour with painful undertones.
It might not be perfect, but The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs is a breath of fresh air for anyone who identifies with lesbian culture. The audience is packed with female couples who whoop at every in-joke, and this reviewer felt seen by the experience in a way that few plays have managed to do. It is enjoyable for allies, but a treasure trove for the LGBTQ community – it captures the fullness of a life that is rarely seen on stage. The costumes, make-up and hair show the diversity of queer aesthetic and the music is very silly and also, very sapphic.
There is so much potential in this show, but it needs some work. Here's hoping it goes far.