MIF23’s opening night world premiere performed at HOME is an adaptation of a cult fantasy novel written in 1977 by Larry Mitchell and Ned Asia, in which history is reimagined through the lens of the faggots and their friends.

In this ‘queer’ version of how we got to be where we are now, three revolutionary waves are described. The first were the ancient revolutions – ones which created the patriarchal ‘civilisation’ and established ‘the men’ as those in charge of everyone else. The second wave modernised and industrialised that patriarchy and created capitalism, in which the men put down and brutalised the different, the marginalised, anyone who was not like them. But the third wave are the revolutions yet to come, as the faggots and their friends demand that the reign of ‘the men’ comes to an end.

If you’re thinking that this sounds more like a manifesto than a fun night out, you’d be right and wrong at the same time.In the stage version, 15 incredibly versatile performers tell stories, sing, play instruments, dance, and even move the scenery, as the world’s history as seen by the faggots becomes an opera, a rave, a political rally cry, a court dance, a bard’s ballad, a revolution in the making. There’s an awful lot going on.

The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, © Tristram Kenton

Yet, somehow, all of this is told with the charm of a bedtime story, maintaining a lightness and sense of fun that counterpoints some of the heavy subject matter. Text is lifted straight from the book, as the faggots form an alliance with women against the men and operate in their secret world on the margins – part of the world of the men but separate at the same time. The world of the faggots and the women is wild, sexual and free, until the cycle of violence and brutal repression starts again and drives the faggots and their friends back into the underworld.This is not a straightforward narrative piece. There isn’t a plot. There are no characters. Things don’t ‘happen’ as the vignettes, polemics, songs and experiences build to provide an alternative context to our society.

Much of the credit for the show’s successes lies with the cast who do an extraordinary job of bringing it all together with an almost bare stage and just a few props. It’s hard to single anyone out, partly because the play has no ‘characters’, but Kit Green as the main storyteller excels, particularly in a mid-way section that is out-and-out comedy. The singularly named Yandass more than matches Kit in a powerful energetic role while the songs performed by the rest of the cast are funny, moving and revealing. The quality of the singing is exceptional.As with many of Manchester International Festival’s new pieces, there’s a definite feeling of this still being a work in progress. Not all of it works but, with a huge ambition, 15-strong cast and so much going on, the fact that so much of it does work is pretty incredible. 

Despite being written in 1979, The Faggots and Their Friends carries a definite relevance to today’s complex relationships with identity, and the liberty and division that current ‘gender wars’ are creating. In a current arts world where the word ‘queer’ is thrown about to describe anything even vaguely gay, The Faggots and Their Friends may not be a stage revolution but it’s certainly one of the queerest nights in a theatre you’ll have for some time. 

By Robert Martin

Main image: The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, © Tristram Kenton

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