Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

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“Where there are discos, may we bring harmonies.”

— Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho —

What started out as a 15-minute sketch at Theatre503’s Thatcherwrite season — a series of short plays based on the life of Margaret Thatcher staged in response to her death, in 2013 — have expanded deservingly into a full hour of boisterous and hilariously funny drag cabaret.

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, is led by the brilliant Matthew Tedford who presents The Iron Lady as a gay icon all dragged up in a two-piece tweed suit, feather boas and stony gin-and-tonic voice.

While watching this uproarious account of Lady Thatcher’s rise from divisive politician to ‘cabaret superstar’, I could not help but to wonder: Why did nobody make this observation while she was alive? It was all there, right in front of our eyes… the pearls, the signature handbag, the unsightly practical flat heels… even the hair screamed drag queen with a capital ‘D’.

Any who, those were different times.

Unlike the satirical backdrop of Thatcher’s drag act in G.A.Y., in the real world under Thatcher’s iron fist 1988 was a riotous time of discontent. The gay community in particular suffered a heavy blow with the introduction of Section 28, a controversial law prohibiting the ‘promotion’ (read ‘education’) of homosexuality in schools.

Thatcher was not our friend.

However, Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, attempts (and certainly succeeds) to rewrite the pains from the past into something more of a fluffy pantomime as it imagines Thatcher making a wrong turn on the eve of the vote for Section 28. Maggie gets lost in Soho and accidentally finds herself in the glittering and gloriously camp club, G.A.Y., where she erupts into song and dance, performing hits like ‘It’s Raining Men’ and Bonnie Tyler’s ‘We Need A Hero‘.

A cabaret superstar is born!

But will the Iron Lady change her mind about the homophobic Section 28 before it’s too late?

Dame Edna has an unlikely rival in Matthew Tedford as he delivers Lady Thatcher with panache while capturing her every mannerism with alarming precision — and that in itself is ‘revenge’ enough… the sequins, hotpants and mustached wingmen flanking Maggie simply make this punchy political satire deliciously sweeter.

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a camp odyssey about gay rights, the 80s and disco! It is a brilliant make-believe reconciliation between the gay community and a lady who suddenly is for turning. (If only things were that simple back then…No regrets!)

Camper than Christmas, glamorous, outrageous and even a bit horrifying. Comedy genius! A guaranteed laugh-a-minute — unless you’re a Daily Mail reader… or a Thatcherite… and there should be a special award for the line “Where there are discos, may we bring harmonies.”

Bitchy and regal, Margaret Thatcher makes the perfect drag queen all thanks to Tedford and his supporting cast. I suspect a full West End transfer is on the cards.

Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho plays at the Leicester Square Theatre until 21 March. Click here to book tickets.

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The Watch You Gave Me Still Ticks Its Hours

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February is LGBT History Month — giving us the opportunity to explore our past, share our stories and remind ourselves of the common threads that tie us together.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of those threads. It was our Holocaust. It crippled our community as it killed hundreds of thousands of gay men with one foul swoop.

Looking back, we can now say: “We survived and we overcame.

But did we really? In a time when HIV drugs are more effective, making the disease no longer a death sentence, the devastating impact it had during those early days is far too easily forgotten by a more liberated and younger LGBT generation… often careless in their ignorance.

So, if we are painfully honest about the challenges we still face as an LGBT community (no matter where we find ourselves in the world), then HIV/AIDS have not left our beds. It still lingers between the sheets.

I found this poem in a comment thread of an article in which survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s reflect on their lives. It beautifully illustrates the heartache and sense of loss felt by so many, but also shows how we still live in the loitering shadow of this disease.


The Watch You Gave Me Still Ticks Its Hours

— by Martin Hatchuel, 6 July 1996 —

The watch you gave me still ticks its hours
though your hours here on earth are done;
The silent hand that sweeps its face
marks time for us no more.

Your time, my dear and deep beloved one
Is over now at last.

The life you had will live in us
whose love still bears your name;
The silent tomb that holds your cross
holds just your earth’s remains.

Your spirit, my dear and deep beloved one
Is ever now at rest.

I’ll celebrate your life, my love
And mourn its brief refrain;
I’ll celebrate our love that’s lost
And mourn, and mourn again.

The time you gave still lives in me
though time has robbed us both;
The finite hours that made our love
are counted now and done.

Your time, my dear and deep beloved one
In me burns ever on.

The smiles you gave still light my days
though laughter’s hollow comfort now;
Your life and memory live in me
though death’s crop is gathered home.

Your love, my dear and deep beloved one
In me burns ever on.


Credits.
Images: FR Lubbe for Little Red Shoes
Text: Martin Hatchuel, 6 July 1996


San Domino — The World’s First Exclusive Gay Community?

“I’m a supporter of gay rights… There are so many qualities that make up a human being… by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.”

― Paul Newman ―

Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, the 1930s and 40s, wanted the portrayal of men to be strong, virile and masculine. Similar to Hitler’s Nazi’s regime, the possibility that homosexuality existed was not entertained. However unlike Hitler and France’s Vichy, no discriminatory laws were passed but instead the strategy was to ‘cover up’ the issue as much as possible and a very hostile climate was created in which open displays of homosexual affections were not tolerated.

Gay Men dancing at a ‘men only’ dance hall in Catania

Gay Men dancing at a ‘men only’ dance hall in Catania

“We notice that many public dances, beaches and places in the mountains receive many of these sick men, and that youngsters from all social classes look for their company,” wrote one particular man, the Mayor of the Sicilian city of Catania, who took full advantage of this “official mood” of homophobia. He proclaimed “This evil needs to be attacked and burned at its core,” and vowed to halt this “spreading of degeneration” in his city “or at least contain such a sexual aberration that offends morality and that is disastrous to public health and the improvement of the race”.

As a result of his fervour, 45 men in Catania, who were believed to be homosexual, were rounded up and consigned to internal exile. In 1938, they were sent 600km away to the island of San Domino, in the Tremitis — today this string of rocky islands in the Adriatic is a tourist hotspot for sun seekers every summer.

The truth is, not much is known about this part of our history. It is thought that very few men who were sent to San Domino are still alive today. There is also the possibility that these outcasts carried on to live hidden lives after they were released from the island, once the war was over. The continued homophobia throughout Europe after World War II meant that most homosexuals did not live openly gay lives and therefore there are few detailed accounts about life on San Domino.

In fact, in a rare interview, published many years ago in the gay magazine, Babilonia, Giuseppe B, a native of Naples and an inmate on San Domino, said that in a way the men were better off on the island. “In those days if you were a [gay man]you couldn’t even leave your home, or make yourself noticed — the police would arrest you. On the island, on the other hand, we would celebrate our Saint’s days or the arrival of someone new… We did theatre, and we could dress as women there and no-one would say anything.”

Thanks to the painstaking research of Gianfranco Goretti and Tommaso Giartosi, wo gathered personal documents and conducted interviews with locals from San Domino, there is some account of the activities on the island. The result is a fascinating overview of the fascist persecution of homosexuals during the 30s and 40s, which they published in their book La città e l’isola (The City and the Island).

La città e l’isola

La città e l’isola

La città e l’isola recounts a world where gay men were taunted in daytime but at night sought out by men who did not consider themselves to be homosexual. It depicts a time of secret meetings on beaches, dance halls for men only, the rivalries, the dress codes, the fear, the love, the gimmicks to remain ‘disguised’, the strategies of families once gay men were ‘found out’, life in exile and the vain attempts to prove their innocence.

Goretti and Giartosi talked tell how the men arrive handcuffed on the island, and how they were be housed in large, Spartan dormitories with no electricity or running water. “We were curious because they were called ‘the girls’,” says Carmela Santoro, an islander who was just a child when the gay exiles began to arrive. “We would go and watch them get off the boat… all dressed up in the summer with white pants — with hats. And we would watch in awe — ‘Look at that one, how she moves!’ But we had no contact with them.” Attilio Carducci, another islander, remembers how a bell would ring out at 8pm every day, when the men were no longer allowed outside. “They would be locked inside the dormitories, and they were under the supervision of the police. My father always spoke well of them. He never had anything bad to say about them — and he was the local Fascist representative.”

A number of gay men were interned along with political prisoners on other small islands, such as Ustica and Lampedusa, but San Domino was the only one where all the exiles were gay. Some of the few accounts given by former exiles make clear that life was not all bad on San Domino. It seems that the day-to-day prison regime was comparatively relaxed… especially if one considers what happened to gay men in the Nazi concentration camps. For the first time in their lives, the men were in a place where they could be themselves — free of the stigma that normally surrounded them in devoutly Catholic 1930s Italy. And it seems that, unwittingly, the Fascists had created a corner of Italy where you were expected to be openly gay… perhaps even the world’s first exclusive gay community.

In his interview with Babilonia magazine, Giuseppe B tells how some prisoners wept, when the outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to the end of the internal exile regime on San Domino, and the men were returned to live under some kind of house arrest in the cities where they came from.

La città e l’isola, is only available in Italian, which a pity because this a very unique fragment of our history that is a testimony of our resilience — something the LGBT community is known for — in the face of adversity. Hopefully an English translation is in the works (not that I know), because it would be a shame if these accounts and fantastic stories do not reach a wider audience.

Click here for information on visiting the Tremitis.


Credits.
Images: Open Source Editorial Images
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes