Liverpool’s Homotopia festival – the UK’s longest-running LGBTQIA+ arts and culture festival – returned this year with aplomb to venues across the city. Running as part of the programme were two QueerCore events, the festival’s dedicated artist-in-development programme. Supported by Arts Council England and the Granada foundation, the programme offers 12 months of support, advice, and funding to queer artists across the region, giving them the freedom to create new work.
It is during the din of a Saturday afternoon crowd in a small and intimate setting, a black square thrust stage set in the middle of one of the Playhouse’s low-ceilinged studios, that three of these select works play out. A blend of circus, spoken word poetry, mixed-media performance and theatre, the pieces proffer explorative and unique takes on the queer experience, each emphatically linked by the intensely personal. It is presumably this link that prompted the creation of That We May Live Again, a rehearsed reading about trans man Albert Cashier, an Irish soldier who served in the Union army during the Civil War, and of who writer Ciarán Hodgers happens to be a direct descendent. Normally working within the realms of spoken word poetry, Hodgers’ new work balances mirth and macabre, perfectly enmeshed in the line “I know what it tastes like!” on suggestion that one character, Ida, has eaten rat poison. The pieces swallow absurdity and gently spit it out at our feet, fooling with the parallels between the alienating context of both warzone and identity – trans, queer, Irish.
It’s within the realms of identity politics that neurodivergent circus performer Grace Neville-Evans takes to the stage (or in her case, gin bottles) with Give and Take, a spoken word performance atop a precariously placed piano stool. A piece that fuses elements of circus and poetry, of beauty and precision, of tenseness and balance, as she raises her body completely off the ground and picks up her microphone. Whatever a life devoted to circus has taken away in the form of serious injuries and instability, it has also given back in the form of travel, community and creativity – a life bigger than what working-class people born in Liverpool traditionally get.
Explorative self-divulgence continues in Maral ‘Mo’ Kassabian Svendsen’s one-person multimedia performance, Tits for Tats, which sees the artist enter in a medical gown and leave in a bedsheet pockmarked with blood. “Without hesitation, I picked a tux”, Mo says of their childhood self, a self which would experience the misplaced self-loathing, the wrath of awful straight men and the agonising waiting that defined their transmasculine experience. A joyfully devilish piece performed with relish, which humorously pin pricks what is otherwise a traumatic autobiographical account of what it is to transition and how society seeks to subvert the trans experience on all levels be it institutional, medical and personal. To invoke the inimitable quote of the ‘60s student movements, Mo’s performance reminded me that the personal remains the political. They sweep off-stage like a queer royal, and the triumph of all three performances echoes back in jovial applause. The future of Liverpool’s queer art scene looks to be in safe hands.