Edinburgh Fringe: How Queer-Led Narratives Are Taking Hold at the Festival

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Edinburgh Fringe 2023 Louis Rembges in Chatham House Rules
Chatham House Rules by Louis RembgesPhotography by Kate Bones

Alistair Hall, who is performing his own debut play Declan at this year’s edition, provides a brief guide to six of the must-see, queer-led productions

For LGBTQ+ theatre-makers, there’s not exactly a shortage of potential inspiration right now. Whether it’s the hostile debate over trans rights in the UK or censorious new laws in the US, the community is facing a backlash that’s fuelling the need for artistic response. So, it comes as no surprise that some of the most exciting productions headed to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe are queer-led shows that feel daring and bold.

These are theatrical works that comment on queer culture in an unexpected way or tear apart anti-gay laws of past and present. If they aren’t political takedowns, then these are productions that shine a light on exciting new voices that don’t shy away from playing with form and structure.

I’m gearing up to perform my own debut play Declan, a surreal monologue that stares down the darkness of homophobia in early-00s rural England. But I’m just as eager to be an audience member for this radical and compelling mix of new shows making their way to the Edinburgh Fringe. Here is a brief guide to six of the must-see productions.

Chatham House Rules by Louis Rembges, Pleasance Theatre, Bunker 1 (lead image)

“I worked a nightmare front-of-house shift in an undisclosed members-only farmhouse in the countryside” explains  Louis Rembges. “I was so disgusted by the things that took place and a certain pig-f*cking prime minister who attended that I decided to write it all down.” Chatham House Rules is a no-holds-barred protest against Tory austerity, the current NHS crisis, anti-trans legislations and the vacuum of TikTok. Surreal, angry and loaded with humour, the play is a welcome introduction to Rembges’ unique, politically charged voice.

Baklâ by Max Percy & Friends, Summerhall

A solo physical theatre piece about intergenerational trauma and the modern Filipino identity, Baklâ mixes butoh dance, performance art and “the occasional sexual moan”. Max Percy & Friends – led by East and South-East Asian artists Percy and Natalie Chan – captivated Fringe audiences last year with This Is Not a Show About Hong Kong, a dance-led production that picked up a Fringe First Award. With Baklâ, Percy steps forward as a sole performer, choreographer and writer, and travels between indigenous ceremonies in pre-colonial Philippines, skin-whitening adverts and a BDSM party in London.

Heart by Jade Anouka, Roundabout at Summerhall

Poet and performer Anouka is self-producing her debut play Heart, a semi-autobiographical piece about the end of a marriage and the shedding of self-imposed boundaries. A dedication to “misfits and others”, this is a solo show that combines poetry, live music and sound design from Beatbox champion Grace Savage. Heart began life as a work-in-progress sharing at Vault Festival and was then adapted into an Audible Original. Now in its gripping new form, Anouka’s debut takes a late-night slot for a short but hotly-anticipated run.

After the Act by Breach Theatre, Traverse Theatre

“What’s been so exciting is how intergenerational our audiences have been so far,” says cast member EM Williams of this synth-infected musical examining Section 28. “We’ve had 70-year old queers who’ve been out for the last decade and 20-year-olds who might not know about that moment in history.” After the Act compiles interviews with teachers and students affected by Thatcher’s legislation that prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. The show boasts standout performances from its all-queer cast and catchy 80s-inflected numbers by composer Frew.

Body Show by Liv Ello & Frankie Thompson, Pleasance Courtyard Beneath

Already known for their anarchic and compelling respective solo shows CAttS and SWARM, Ello and Thompson have decided to come together for one of this year’s most hotly-tipped Fringe performances.  Body Show is described as an “end of the world premiere” that sees the duo unpack body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, eating disorders and death. Beneath the darkness though, it promises to be a “love story, of sorts” and will no doubt fuse the performers’ acute clowning talents and apparently, some audience participation.

Salty Irina by Eve Leigh, Roundabout at Summerhall

Award-winning playwright and theatremaker Leigh’s new queer two-hander focuses on lovers Anna and Eireni, who decide to infiltrate a far-right festival after a series of recent racist murders in their town. When the nature of their relationship is uncovered, their safety is under threat. Directed by Debbie Hannan, the electric directorial talent and frequent collaborator of playwright Travis Alabanza’s, Salty Irina describes itself as a “coming-of-age story set against the rise of the far right”.

Alistair Hall’s debut play Declan is at Underbelly from 15-27 August at 2.35pm daily.