Shoreditch Town Hall, London
‘Wait up here and they’ll come and collect you and take you down to the basement’ are my first instructions from the gentlemen in the foyer. Shoreditch Town Hall has the appearance of a dying museum, standing out in its surroundings like Prince Charles in a chippy. Aspiring now to become a local cultural hub, the location is lending itself to arts projects such as Reach Out and Touch Me by Outbox LGB Theatre Company.
Working closely with Central School of Speech and Drama, the company aims to be both political and entertaining in their mission to bring LGB people together. All members of the company are themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual. As the performance event begins, separation is inevitable. The audience is divided by pink or yellow wristbands, and then led beneath the building.
The performance space is phenomenal: an intimate, brick labyrinth of shadows and hidden rooms which the company have mostly left bare. It is the perfect location for discovering what beauties and struggles lie underground in the LGB community. As you are led around through little snapshots of narrative, the web of characters slowly forms and the relevant issues present themselves.
An LGB community has been fought for and achieved, but not everyone feels welcome. Online dating, a topic tackled with intelligent humour, complicates a culture already filled with uncertainty. It seems there are conflicts with self-identification which few can understand in the LGB community, as becomes apparent in a particularly moving scene performed by Hellen Kirby and Luke Rogan. Kirby’s convincing character upholds the importance of being truthful to yourself, championing the now famous ‘it gets better’ philosophy. It was not long before myself and others were welling up.
The realization that there is an affectionate truth in every word spoken by them, a performative honesty, gives the production a uniquely personal edge. The intense proximity to the performers leaves you enraptured by every small movement or action, even simple breathing. The actors do at times tell their own personal stories, which only adds to your respect for their openness.
Most audience members are shy and reluctant to engage with the participatory elements, which is unfortunate as these sections symbolise how the intent is not to exclude us from the community. They are giving us an insight and saying (literally) that although these are their stories, they could be ours also. The production is an invitation to understand and is an opportunity for cultural education that should not be missed. It is touching, humorous, inventive, thought-provoking and perfectly situated.