Image credit: Vanguard Productions

That’s kinda (really) gay: A Night of Queer Music review

When it comes to the arts, a lot of queer people’s spidey-senses (or Bi-Fi for my bi folks) go off at the slightest queer-coded subtexts, usually written under heaps and heaps of straight-washing: ‘A Night of Queer Music’ does the complete opposite of this. Not only does the show highlight these subtexts, but it also creates whole new meanings to known and loved musical theatre classics, by introducing reimagined queer narratives. A major part to the show was the original settings of (lesbian icon) Sappho’s poetry to music, done by Adrienne Knight, which brought a reminder of the rich LGBTQ+ history that has existed since ancient times.

The performance consisted of 18 interpolated songs (3 of which being the set Sappho songs) and was held in the Holywell Music Room. The Holywell is supposedly the first European custom-built concert hall from 1748. The venue also popularised the music of Haydn and was performed in by Handel. The use of this venue brought a really refreshing performance, as watching queer music in such an old and revered venue brought new meanings to the performance space, especially as it is not necessarily known for platforming student performances.

Another incredibly refreshing theme was the constant sapphic content in songs and pairings. So often in musical theatre and the arts in general, when queer content is canonical, women* (and my awesome nonbinary and genderqueer pals) are left out of the newly amplified queer voices, due to the lack of women* in writing rooms. ‘A Night of Queer Music’ constantly makes sure to increase further diminished voices through the use of these inclusions.

The second show begun with Adrienne Knight, the director of ‘A Night of Queer Music’, introducing the event, swiftly leading into the opening song ‘Being Alive’. The further inclusion of queer narratives is emphasised by lyrical changes to classic musical theatre songs, as the lyrics do not just swap pronouns, rather they change material to create new meanings for the songs. For example, Company’s ‘Being Alive’, sang by the whole cast, was reimagined to discuss themes of opening up to others and queer joy after being societally deterred by homophobic narratives and Tangled’s ‘I See the Light’ (adorably sang by Eliza Hogermeer and Katie Kirkpatrick), reflected enlightened feelings after coming out.

‘A Night of Queer Music’ impressively combined songs from all musical genres, including the operatic ‘Quand me’n vo’ sung ecstatically by Antonida Kocharova and ‘Habanera’ from Carmen, sung incredibly by Lois Heslop, whose voices filled the whole Holywell, West-Side Story’s ‘Maria’, elegantly sung by Geena Morris and ‘You Matter to Me’ from Waitress, heart-stoppingly performed by Marcus O’Connor and Tom Campbell. The mixture of both revered musical theatre songs and newer musical settings of ancient Sappho poetry created a beautiful timeless energy to the event, which is one of the take-home atmospheres overall.

Although the Holywell is an incredibly designed venue, with its curved walls to allow the sound to bounce, I can see the lack of microphones maybe causing a problem to audience members further into the stalls, however being at the front of the venue, this was not a direct issue. However, the lack of tech on the instruments did cause a slight disconnect between the musicians and singers, which was heard a couple times during the performance.

The closing song was the musically set Sappho poetry, ‘For You Know How’, sung by the whole cast, which hauntingly reverberated through the venue, making sure to stick with you after the performance had ended.

Overall, Vanguard Productions’ ‘A Night of Queer Music’ was a lovely break from the stress of Oxford and brought queer joy to so much of the audience. The second show was performed the night before Pride month, emphasising the dense and important history of the LGBTQ+ community and how the arts can discuss these narratives. The production also presents how it is important to stand in solidarity with different parts of the queer community, especially the trans community due to the constant discrimination and erasure they currently face both in Oxford and the wider political world, which is stated at the end of the show’s programme’s opening notes.