Where queerness meets mumness - Wearing Mum's Makeup at The New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
Wearing Mum’s Make-up is a show that’s been two years in the making.Of course, a large part of this is due to the pandemic.
But over that period, a fruitful relationship has built up between local performers from the queer community and mums.
The project was started back in 2019 by Downtown Pompey, a queer community theatre company.
They brought a bunch of Pompey mums together, asking questions about identity, health and theatre. And over the past two years they’ve created workshops, safe spaces and seen a new community grow.
It culminates this weekend in two cabaret-style shows on the main stage of the New Theatre Royal
Josh Breach, the show’s co-creator says: ‘Originally the project was to provide a series of workshops over six months where we would create a safe space using our queer practice to invite mums from the area in to create a piece of cabaret performance that they would then show.
‘We found a really beautiful relationship between how queer people are seen and treated in the news and the media, and expectations and stereotypes, and that of mums.
‘We talked a lot about this situation where a mum watches GMTV in the morning and is told how she should be, then she's watching Lorraine and told what she should wear, then she's watching Loose Women and she's told by a bunch of other women how she should live her life.
‘It was understanding that a lot of the messages we're told as queer people are some of the same messages and boxes that these mums are being told to live in.
‘They felt like although there are all-women spaces, and spaces for mums, that they were the sort of outcasts in those groups and there was nowhere that could capture them. It was a really interesting development finding this out.’
For Josh, who performs cabaret as The Fabulous Josh, the community aspect is key: ‘For the company Downtown, it's about making sure that we can centre the voices in Portsmouth, about Portsmouth.
‘There's a civic responsibility in theatre – for us to be responsive to the people. And there wasn't enough of that work in Portsmouth that had that level of engagement.’
‘Over the course of the workshops, we've done burlesque, visual art workshops, singing workshops – where they have had the opportunity to engage in that in a safe way, their confidence has developed.
‘We had a strand where we went out – before lockdown – to karaoke, it was an opportunity for people to dip their toes in, to have a go and start to feel their way into it.
‘By the time we got to the point where we turned around and said: “Right, who wants to do the show?” we had a good level of people who were engaged and wanted to take part in it, because they felt they were ready to create.
‘We also gave them the opportunity – if they didn't want to perform their own work, we would get them to direct a work where a queer performer I've worked with on the cabaret scene, would come in and they would perform your work on your behalf, and you direct that.’
Working with the mums, they’ve put together a series of autobiographical pieces for the show, drawing on what they learned in the workshops.
‘I think there was something about the cabaret format that was quite appealing too.
‘If we'd turned around straight away and said: “We're going to do a play on that large stage”, it would have been quite intimidating.
‘But saying you've got up to 15 minutes, and you're going to work with me and my associates on creating a piece of performance that is autobiographical in any way that you want – it’s your voice, your story.’
Josh adds: ‘What makes my brain explode is that we're redefining cabaret. There's been such an emergence of cabaret and drag being so much bigger now, we're inundated with that type of work, so it's great to say: “Actually, let's look at it from a different perspective. Let's use the cabaret format as a way of engaging communities in accessing theatre and accessing that performance space”.’
Josh was also keen to move away from the idea that community theatre, is, well, not very good…
‘It also gave us the ability to focus on the quality, so what I'm really keen for the show to present in this is the essence that community work can be of interesting, abstract quality.
‘I think there's quite a stigma around community theatre, particularly that it's something trapped in a community centre or sidelined.
‘It's important that we're on the main stage of the NTR, and these mums who've never performed before are on centre stage and are able to tell their stories in the way that they want.’
And they’re already seeing a lasting impact from putting this show together.
‘One of the performers has already gone onto be a drag artist in their own right, and is going and doing gigs, setting up their own shows. It really is quite something.
‘The legacy for me, is just as important as the project itself. I don't want to do something that's just a flash in the pan.’
Wearing Mum’s Makeup is at The New Theatre Royal on October 9-10.
Both shows are sold out, but check newtheatreroyal.com or call (023) 9264 9000 for returns.
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