• Stage Whispers

Space Age Love Songs: Is it Love or Hate?

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

Cami is a goth girl, Daniel is an aspiring drag queen; it's a match made in 1984 America. Space Age Love Songs is the queer growing-up story we all needed, and still need, in this new production from the team behind last year's hit 'How I Became a Dominatrix'.

Written, produced (and costume and music coordination!) by TL Wiswell, this semi-autobiographical work invites us to 1980's Arizona, where we see trailer-park, goth-girl Cami struggling at a, yet another, new school and find a friend and inspiration in the gender-non-conforming Daniel, who is also a frequent transfer student.

'It's no fun being a Mandroid when your dream is to be a diva' the blurb alerts us to the fictional Sci-Fi part of TL Wiswell's story and immediately has us on high-alert that we're in for a fun, campy night.

Cami escapes from her everyday, and tough, world by plugging into her extensive music collection, popping on her earphones and letting her walkman drown out her mom, the world and humans in general. It's this simple but effective stylistic direction by Micha Mirto that I craved even more of to help signify the wacky, metallic-lycra-clad Sci-Fi fantasy in, what I eventually cottoned on to being, Cami's imagination.

With Sci-Fi stage shows like 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens' already out there in the ether, a play set in another dimension is not too far-fetched, which is why at times, due to the abrupt jumps (literally) into Cami's Sci-Fi fantasies of 'Mandroids' fighting for a peaceful place on Earth, I found myself questioning whether Daniel actually really was a being not-of-our-planet. It's at the climax of the piece when the, quite beautiful, metaphor really clicks into place and hits home, concluding with a bonkers and fun slow-mo battle scene accompanied by another excellent 80's banger from Wiswell's eclectic playlist.

Space Age Love Songs graciously sits in the middle of bringing to light the hard realities and harshness of the queer experience vs creating a fun and safe space for all regardless of gender and orientation, which feels, very much, is the heartbeat of this play and what it is trying to (and succeeds) achieve.

The friendships between gay/bi men and straight women are interesting ones that I enjoyed seeing explored in the dynamic of two 16/17 year olds trying to figure themselves out in 80's Southwestern America (not touched on in this story but undeniable) during a time when their country and world was in the midst of an AIDS Epidemic and prejudices and abuse against the LGBT+ community were all too frequent and too real. As TL, quite rightly, notes in the programme and what is the irrefutable message of Space Age Love Songs: 'allyship matters'.

The play snaps through scenes at Flash Gordon speed which both works in it's favour but did at times leave me wanting more from deeper scenes. Having such quick scenes made it hard for me to get the flesh and bones of each character: Eleanor Burke's Mom and Andie Worth's Matt being two I truly wanted to understand and get under the skin of more. Talking of prejudices against the LGBT+ community, the anti-woman, gay-but-dates-women-to-pass and despises-his-boyfriend's-feminine-behaviours Matt was a character that really captivated me due to the delicate and nuanced performance of Andie Worth, making his scenes utterly affecting and darkly stirring, leaving me wanting more.

The whip-crack pace makes impeccable use of the brilliant character work of Eleanor Burke, most commonly known as London cabaret favourite 'Apple Derrieres', and really showcases her impressive and diverse talent. Eleanor goes from troubled and abused alcoholic mother of Cami to giddily zany (and very Liza with a Z) Mrs Tankersley quicker than the tube journey from Leicester Square to Covent Garden and dazzles in each and every one of her interpretations.

The quick pace of the play and the majority of the additional character work being in Burke's care did leave me wanting to see more of the adept and captivating Lottie Grogan and Aquira Bailey Browne, who supported the main characters splendidly and when they did get their moments to perform supporting characters, delighted and shone.

It's hard to believe that half the cast are still in their studies at East 15, particularly Reanne Black who delivers a knock-out performance as Cami. Reanne portrays the down-on-her-luck but quirky Cami with a brilliant blend of wide-eyed wonder and weightiness that makes her a joy to watch. Reanne reminds me of a young Winona Ryder and I'll be keeping an eye out for this future star.

Robert Twaddle, as the effervescent yet grounded Daniel, had the audience eating out of the palms of his feather-framed hands. His stage presence in the more delicate scenes and then the bigger, vivacious drag-performance scenes beautifully demonstrated how far his talents go and knowing Twaddle is also a London drag queen means I'll also be keeping a glitter-covered eye on him too.

Space Age Love Songs is a power ballad to all those freaks and weirdos, queers and straights who didn't fit in, letting us know we always were and are perfect just the way we are.

Star Rating: ***

Ticket Price: Gifted by company (£15 base rate, £13 concession)

Venue: Hen and Chickens, Highbury and Islington

Accessibility: On the first-floor of this fringe pub-venue, 1 flight of curved stairs, no step-free access up to the auditorium.

Comfortability: Un-allocated, fold-down seats in raked rows in black-box pub theatre. (Were helpfully advised by writer/producer TL that the second row had 'bad sight lines'). Was a warm summer night and although not a full house was still toasty. Noise from pub downstairs and road can be heard but isn't too invasive.

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