Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 2004

The Edinburgh Fringe and Book Festivals

reviewed by Tony Challis

“How do you know if you look good in the morning? Do you just look in the mirror, shrug and say, ‘I hope that’s OK’?” Thus Reginald D. Hunter, a black American stand-up comic commenting on the strange fear straight men often have of admitting that they know whether another man is appealing. He explored difficult territory around race and relationships, and was thought-provokingly hilarious. He is very well worth catching on tour.

Seriously camp humour came from the duo Topping and Butch, who were again brilliant this year, with very topical, up-to-the-minute humour – including a biological odyssey, “Send in the Clones”, and musical exhortations to “Never Mind”. They began their Edinburgh run celebrating Topping’s 61st birthday, but their scathingly satirical pleasantries are timeless, and you can lose yourself in a delirious bath of laughter. The gay circuit of London and Brighton know this pair well, but they are about to become something bigger, and received five stars from The Scotsman.

Aisle 16 are a group of young men (one gay) who satirise the achievement culture through poetry and commentary. Their current show, Powerpoint, hammers away at some of the crazy, draining aspects of contemporary working life. Very well worth catching on tour – brilliantly energetic and stimulating.

Humour became blacker when I visited the Traverse Theatre and saw Sisters, Such Devoted Sisters, an extremely well-scripted and well-acted one-person show abut a transvestite living a hard and bitter life in Glasgow. Russell Barr’s acting is captivating, with very good comic timing. The overall effect is deeply moving.

At the always very prolific “C” venue was Cock Tale. The Another Midas Theatre Company provide a stage visit to the world of Chaucer – one of several at this year’s Fringe. Harper Ray is Chanticleer, delighting in his own voice, transported to the 1950s and appearing in Vogue photoshoots (very effectively conveyed through repeated stills). This show is ravishing to the eye, with sets and costumes that were very pleasing. The chicken-coop physical movements are very well sustained. Pertelote (Lucinda Ryan) is a charming magical baker. Helen McManamon’s scalding seductiveness and impassioned dancing are particularly riveting.

Two years ago I described an extremely moving show, The Laramie Project, the story of Matthew Shepard’s “crucifixion” in Wyoming. That show won a Fringe First. This year the same team of college students (the Red Chair Players) brought Bang Bang, You’re Dead, a dynamic and provoking response to the Columbine High School shootings – and won another Fringe First.

At the same time, there were two productions of The Laramie Project. One was American, by Syracuse University Drama Productions – an excellent production, which would move any emotionally alive person to tears. The second was an English version by Playground Productions, which made its point clearly, although, with only four actors in a reduced version of a play that originally had 50-plus characters (usually played by a cast of around 15), it was brave and resourceful of the company to make the attempt. They decided to do so because last year they produced a version of Nabokov’s Lolita, and, while leafleting on the Royal Mile here in Edinburgh, they were verbally abused for producing a play about man-girl love. When one of the cast then mentioned being gay, they were subjected to homophobic abuse The fact that this could happen in the middle of the fringe prompted them to do Laramie, produced by Jeremy Williams, the Oxford student at the receiving end of the abuse. It would be good if the company now focused their anger on an aspect of gay life in today’s Britain, and devised a play about that.

This is precisely what Slice of Life Productions have done with Say Sorry, which focuses on the issue of same-sex domestic violence. This show is written by Alex Baker and directed by Neil Harris. Baker plays the abuser, though the play was inspired by his personal experience of abusive blackmail, which almost drove him to suicide. Harris plays the victim and Craig Henderson plays the “stunning but straight” (and supportive) flatmate.

The play develops rather slowly, but has a very intense finale.

There are no mainstream services for LGBT people facing domestic abuse or violence within the UK. Alex Baker is engaged in a broader campaign to raise awareness about this and to change attitudes. Further information can be had from

The Humanist Society of Scotland scored a coup on the first evening of the Edinburgh Book Festival. They had the annual Humanist Lecture given by Joan Bakewell. As the presenter, Ruth Wishart, commented, Bakewell really is an advertisement for 70 as the new 50. Bakewell has presented many programmes of religious enquiry on TV, but stated that she has no faith herself but is very interested in the anthropology of religion and the presence of ritual and belief across human societies.

She referred to Richard Dawkins’s comments on research suggesting that the human brain has what might crudely be called “a religious component” – a suggestion that is sure to provoke endless debate. Such a debate was likely to ensue on 27 August at the Book Festival – long after I’d written this – when Richard Dawkins and the former Episcopalian bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway were due to meet and discuss. Tickets for that event sold out very quickly.

The Joan Bakewell event sold out, too, with 600 people packed into a vast tent. It was leafleted by the Humanist Society of Scotland, with an invitation to join them in a nearby pub after the event. I took up the invitation. I was surprised to find that they appeared not to know about GALHA. They do now, and they have copies of this magazine, which will be available for perusal at the next Edinburgh meeting. They have 700 members, large groups in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and are having a conference in Glasgow in October. More information on their website or by writing to

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Created : Sunday, 2004-10-17 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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