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REVIEW: Homotopia

DIVA is a proud media sponsor of Liverpool's peerless queer arts festival. Jane Czyzselska left London to see what all the fuss is about

Fri, 11 Nov 2011 15:27:52 GMT | Updated 5 years today

Despite a 6 hour train journey - and five changes of rolling stock - I found myself grinning from ear to ear last week when I escaped London's dolldrums for sunny Liverpool. Homotopia was my destination of choice, not least so I could pay homage to my old pal, and brilliant painter Sadie Lee, who's joint show with Matthew Stradling at The Gallery is a jewel in the crown at this year's festival.


Arriving fashionably late at almost 9pm at the bijoux queer-friendly haven known as Unity Theatre, I made my entry half-way through the Lavender Girls event just in time to catch Sandra Alland and Y. Josephine who together comprise the alternative performance troupe, Zorras. A medley of poetry, music, video, megaphones - and drumming that would put Sheila E to shame - the Edinburgh duo spin stories of whimsy and manage to insert the great painter Frida Kahlo into (almost) every one of them.


Apparently I wasn't the only one to be inconvenienced by Virgin Trains (a collapsed network of overhead power cables and 'a fire'. Somewhere), Lavender compere-cum-radio-host Rosie Wilby and members of Sadie Lee's band 'Spinster' were also casualities. In Rosie's place the audience was treated to an impromptu compere stand-in from local lasses Caz and Britney. Caz and Britney were ever so friendly, greeting me like a long lost cousin visiting from Australia. Sadly I missed their chef d'oevre 'Scotty Road, the musical' a satirical homage to a (their words) 'particularly skanky but much loved' road in the 'Pool. According to the Liverpool exile I work with, it's the equivalent of London's Hackney Road, so no danger of finding Prada there. Well not in its original incarnation, anyway.


But back to Rosie. Miss Wilby arrived in a flurry with a new girlfriend who seemed to enjoy her new role as the butt of Rosie's jokes, judging by the way she was chortling in the seat nearby. I use the word butt in an affectionate way. Like a hornet's nest. Rosie was in fine form. Perhaps all that extra time on the train had given her the opportunity to hone her funny bone. The pint-sized funny woman had me - and the rest of the audience, gay chaps included - emiting sounds which can only be described as laughter for a solid gold half hour. She told us she'd had to change five times on her way up, not trains, mind, but her gender. I think she might have been telling the truth because she actually morphed into a lesbian Eddie Izzard before us. Mind you some think that La Izzard IS a lesbian, I suppose. That notwithstanding, I think we can safely say that a new comedy star is re-born.


The following and final act, Spinster, was headed up by Sadie - who looked replete in a pencil skirt, boots and fishnets. The band's opening number 'Village Slut' has stayed with me for days. And nights. And the odd morning. Sadie plays the electric ukelele and is supported by a crack team of queer ladies on bass, keyboards and drums. Most of the band have first names that sound like letters of the alphabet. Spinster's set was a rollicking 40 minutes of hardcore sex, er, ukelele (interchangable) and the band finished off with an unforgettable version of Britney's Toxic ("I'm addicted to you, don't you know that you're Toxteth").


The following day I had the pleasure of attending Sadie and Matthew's artist's talk for the Pinups exhibit at The Gallery on Stanhope Street where I learned a thing or two about my friend. What draws Sadie to her subjects is a sense of dis-ease and awkwardness. Sadie reckons she's got awkward running through her veins and so she can spot it a mile off and capture it in all its delicious complexity. She's not wrong - her new series of artworks specially commissioned by Homotopia - features andro pinup Anderrida Shurville, Stav B - the first lady of London's queer underground, Liverpudlian actress Rita Tushingham, cultural icon and commentator David Hoyle and her painter friend Matthew Stradling. Matthew, who paints luscious, devotional images of men in the style of the great masters told us how the art world still operates a gay glass ceiling and how difficult it is to get his work seen beyond a gay audience. Go see! And drag your straight mates along too.


Later on I trundled over to the fabulous FACT - is le tout Liverpool gay? - where local girl Rita Tushingham, star of the famous Kitchen Sink drama 'A Taste of Honey' gave a bravura lead performance (at least she did in 1961, the year the film was made) and spoke about her fabulous acting career in a Q&A afterwards. If you've not seen it I recommend it as a film that addresses race, homosexuality and femaleness in a sensitive fashion that was rare at the time.


Throughout my all too brief weekend in Liverpool I met so many friendly, funny, clued up people at Homotopia, and the team there are positively inspirational. If only I could stay for the whole month. If you're after some intelligent, funny, touching, visionary, thought-provoking stuff to do in November, Homotopia is the place to be.


This weekend, on Saturday night, the highlight is Alternative Miss Liverpool featuring traditional rounds of day and evening wear as well as Butch/Femme realness, Tom-Boy, Liverpool Spinster and Military Drag. There's plenty more on so check Homotopia for more info.

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