Theatre Review: This Queer House (VAULT Festival 2020, London) ★★

The concept of award-winning poet Oakley Flanagan’s debut play, produced by the female and LGBTQIA+ led OPIA Collective in partnership with Gendered Intelligence, This Queer House was intriguing. The press blurb tempted me in: “A young queer couple inherit a home. A joint renovation project begins. A restless house gathers strength.”

I immediately wondered about the identities of the couple and the magic of an inherited house. Having moved into a doer-upper myself 20 years ago, I’m a sucker for a renovation project. A challenge, a transformation; who doesn’t love such an idea of vision and opportunity? And a haunted or possessed house; an inanimate object that, well, isn’t. It felt like a Gothic, fairy-tale adventure. The metaphors were there to be discovered, and as it turned out, it was not at all what I had expected. (Note to self: plays about dilapidated houses are not actually about fixing up houses, dummy.)

Things start promisingly enough: lesbian Leah (Humaira Iqbal) and non-binary Oli (Liv Ello) move in to their new house and start taking steps to make it a home. That’s an exciting and challenging proposition for any couple. A dog is rescued and a builder procured. It’s a great set-up, and we know, of course, as theatre-goers, that it’s not going to be a smooth ride.

It’s interesting to see a poet turn their hand to playwriting, and to take such an experimental approach. As a result, the play is hard to pigeonhole and this works both for and against it. An unexpected turn of either plot or style in a play can be delightful, and sometimes it can be the key to understanding, discussion or commendation to others. And yet … there were times where I wasn’t sure whether I was watching a pantomime or a thriller; it started to detract from both plot and meaning. While the performances were good, I became so preoccupied by trying to understand what was going on and why, that after a while I overlooked them.

This Queer House is staged as part of the Vault Festival, an annual arts and entertainment festival based in London’s Waterloo. It runs until 1 March 2020.

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