The Welsh independent music scene was dealt a drastic blow when a news article was published that Porters in Cardiff would be closed down to be replaced by a set of flats. The sad thing about this is that it is not the first speculation of a music venue being potentially closed down (the other being Chapter arts which we talked about during a review of “We Hunt Together” available at https://rhysreviews.com/2022/05/06/we-hunt-together-screening-review/) This is obviously a massive disappointment for local musicians or people who enjoy independent artists but it is a particularly upsetting announcement as before lockdown we would regularly attend their Calamity Jane music theatre evenings! These events would have a live piano genius perform some of musical theatre’s most iconic show tunes while encouraging the audience to sing along at the top of their lungs! It was fantastic to see a group of theatre fanatics coming together somewhere where they feel safe enough to showcase their love of musicals! Despite a smaller theatre cafe being established every Sunday in St Andrew’s coffee court for anyone interested, the future loss of porters is still a massive blow to the local theatre community.
Having been to porters many times before COVID I had never actually experienced how the venue could physically be used as a venue to showcase local theatre. The brand-new immersive LGBT+ theatre experience ‘Queeros’ used this venue to help highlight the experience of many queer people. After the success that is Heartstopper (which you can read our thoughts on this Netflix original season at http://www.nerdly.co.uk/2022/05/12/heartstopper-season-1-review-netflix/?fs=e&s=cl) which broadcasted an incredibly heart-warming story of a teenager coming to accept his sexuality, we need to push for greater inclusion of queer stories in media that represent the true range of human experiences! What is insanely clever about the staging of Queeros is uses the natural setting of the bar within its own narrative with our two lead characters finding solace in a local bar. There are moments in the show where the characters are ordering drinks which is actually performed at the bar itself (which does contradict all my ideas about performing with you back to the audience) but the premise of using a natural setting as the thing it is in real-life is very clever as the audience are no longer forced to suspend their disbelief.
The show is spearheaded by the wonderful cast of Eridan Octavius (He/they) and Luci Pher (she/they) who play Eli and Florence respectively. These two performers move around the venue itself, with the audience following them as they do so, and talk about the difficult journey they have both had in regards to accepting their personal gender identity. The dialogue between these two characters have been crafted in such a way that really captures the relaxed and natural conversations that occur if between friends which is not an easy thing to portray! Having gone to school with and performed in shows alongside Eridan, I found it particularly moving when they discussed, as Eli, the struggles of self-acceptance during high school. While I am obviously aware of the suspension of reality and the function of performers in character, I found this scene particular powerful as it seemed totally natural but honest in equal regards. Through the show, we see a depiction of a transphobic incident where a random rugby lad played by Felix Isherwood (he/they) where the T slur is used which results in Flo having to stand up to the bully in a rather intense scene. This moment was wonderful to see for a character development stage but was very upsetting due to the frequency these attacks occur even today.
During this night out our two characters bump into the Welsh ballroom community a group I am not familiar with. We saw Alia Alia (she/her) taking on the role of Jazmin who helps to further the show wide conversation of gender identity and Leighton Wall (he/him) playing himself. The group firstly showcased how to walk the runway which was extremely fun and had the audience cheering throughout. They then selected two people from the audience to take part in which was quickly followed by Eli and Florence. The show highlights the frequency and intensity of transphobia even in the twenty-first century. Later in the show, the audience were treated to a wonderful musical performance with vocals from the celebrated Mrs K (she/her) who wore a wonderfully sparkly outfit that was reminiscent of the iconic David Bowie. Mrs K was accompanied by Ryan Elliot (he/him) on guitar and Charlie Jenkins (they/them) with later also being the creator of the entire show! This musical performance was very moving and help to encapsulate the entire narrative perfectly. Both the ballroom elements and the musical performance were incredible inclusion but I do think the transitions from the acted scenes to these performances could have been better embedded into the narrative itself.
Overall, this is a show that showcases queer stories by queer performance which helps bring with it an extra layer of emotional gravitas to the show. The jewel of this show is that the dialogue is built in a way to perfectly capture honest and real conversations about gender while also promoting the progress of welsh LGBT+ entities. The immerse element had the audience moving around the actual venue which helped to break transition to scenes flawlessly. I would rate this show 4 out of 5 stars!