Tag Archives: Bristol Old Vic Ferment

Out of the tick box and into the grey…move over darlings we’re 50 shades of gay – celebrating LGBT month, diversity, sexuality and pondering the consequences of silence.


Lucy Meadows a primary school teacher from Lancashire underwent gender transition in the latter half of last year. Regardless of the fact that she was supported by her employer, she was the subject of vigorous press interest after a letter written by the headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s C of E primary school in Accrington just before Christmas was leaked to the media. Her case had been the subject of great press attention most notably from Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn who authored the since been edited  but none the less still vile article which personally attacks Ms Meadows citing ‘’He’s not only in the wrong body … he’s in the wrong job” in an attempt to suggest that LGBT are a poor example to children.

On the 19th of March Lucy Meadows was found dead after an apparent suicide, three months after starting to live and work as a woman. Lucy was 32 years old when she died.


I really don’t enjoy having to define my sexuality to other people.  Why?  because I’ve often found it hard to define myself. I hated having to tick a box, to say I was definitely this or that when I had an idea that sexuality like many other things in life could fluctuate. That it changed over the life course.  I could never find the manual that would specifically tell me what was exactly heterosexual or bi-sexual or lesbian. If I kissed a girl or was intimate did it mean I was a lesbian? Or bi-sexual? or experimental? or drunk? How many would it take to fulfil any of these categories? How recent would they need to be? Would it make a difference if it was love or just sex? And why the need for definitions anyway – isn’t being happy in your relationship the measure? Then I got to thinking about male partners. If I went out with a guy who wore eyeliner, nail varnish and tights would I be fooling myself because he was actually gay? Or maybe he was just experimental? Or simply had a deep appreciation for quality cosmetics and hosiery? Was there something wrong with me if I decided I was not uncomfortable with this anyhow? Surely a lot of our underlying views on sexuality and gender are every much socially constructed anyway? Right?

I thought I was alone with this and didn’t really make any efforts to define myself or think about it until recently a few things made me change my mind.  I watched this brilliant video by artist and photographer Tillett Wright whose work to photograph the gay community in New York ran into problems when she found that many others like herself found it hard to define precisely her changing sexual and gender identity, as she experienced tendencies for girls and boys and has lived as both a girl and a boy. Her TED talk sets out some great evidence as to why many of us are actually ‘50 shades of gay’ or situated somewhere on this huge spectrum which is complex and changing.

Soon after, during February it was LGBT month in Bristol and being a person who loves to hear stories I toddled along to Mshed – who were presenting a ‘groundbreaking exhibition by Outstories Bristol, revealing the hidden histories of Bristol’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities through images, artworks, oral history and memorabilia’ from this I learnt the terrific struggle that those in the LGBT community in Bristol had previously had, the stories were warm and human but also illustrated the persecution and exclusion that many people had to face even as recently as 15-20 years ago. Ujima radio also had a feature during the run up to the LGBT month where I met prolific Bristolian transgender sci-fi writer Cheryl Morgan who discussed her experiences as well as her favourite books.


However the most affecting experience and the one that will stay in my mind was in fact a theatrical one. Except that the stories being performed were real stories. Not fictional.  Tom Marshman is an artist based in Bristol. He actively encourages a dialogue with audiences and participants aiming to create a safe space to share their thoughts and experiences. The results give very evocative authentic glimpses into everyday things. His recently performed work ‘Move over darling’ was made ‘through a process of engagement with participants from Bristol and the surrounding area. The performance had a direct relationship to participants’ personal accounts. The project allows an under-represented community to tell their social history which is often ignored due to political or social constraints and legislation. This enables this community to tell their story that has been previously unavailable to them and explore the diversity of their community The project aims to locate this work within the Bristol area’s familiar and everyday locations helps to transform and create multi-layered signifiers [emotional and historic] of building and places to the participants. For example bars where liaisons took place. Courts cases for acts of ‘indecency’ and pilgrimages to Greenham Common’


The experience started with a gesture and a selection of small objects  on the staircase at Bristol Old Vic then took us on a journey around the streets breathing life back into the old city as  buildings seem to once again glow with the vibrancy and richness of human experience from days gone by. The storytelling was  warm, engaging, full of strength, vulnerability, sincerity and sherry infused elegance whilst revealing how the social context has changed for the older LGBT community, how prejudice and ignorance was experienced and also the impact of HIV and the sadness of loss.

At the final location The Milk Bar we were transported through time and space through a number of now seemingly blurred stories, music from different eras, a song, as we heard tales of love, laughter, sexual experiences, secrets and confessions. Previously invisible triumphs, struggles and experiences of the older LGBT community were made visible through the performance. A lampshade stands at the end of a bar, tables that seemed to float, the sound of a hammer struck 5 times, a flying brick, a song, a face turned away from a wall. Denim.


The stories certainly opened my eyes and mind to the experiences of the older LGBT community. It also illustrated how art and performance is a great medium for overcoming preconceptions and general lack of awareness about certain social issues. Given all of these experiences collectively I felt that I was perhaps less afraid than I was to approach the issue of LGBT culture and identity or even to think about the context.  To give consideration to different or new experiences and gain an appreciation of multiplicities and complexities. To honour the bravery of those who had shared such experiences and were often subject to negative treatment throughout their lives. To gain an understanding, or as Tillet Wright suggests to ‘spark empathy’.

So I could have skipped over the whole sexuality issue. Just ignored it on principle, but seeing such articles in the press from journalists such as those involved in the tragic case of Lucy Meadows and thinking about the evidence I’ve heard through the performance I changed my mind. I now think that anyone, no matter how ‘grey’ they think they may be – if they could they should say so.  Only by broadening out the tick boxes, abolishing the categories and revealing the true honesty and depth of human experience we will be able to begin to make moves towards a truly equal society. By taking away the certainty and letting go of definitions and preconceptions we will be able to make sexuality and gender a place for play, discovery, union, celebration and ultimately a better understanding of ourselves and others regardless of pursuit or persuasion.  With the case of Lucy Meadows in mind, it becomes essential we ask the question – who is responsible for equality? But the implications of the answer is even greater – because we all are.

‘I could have been better’ by Idiot Child at Bristol Old Vic


Some stuff happened….

Then I went to see Idiot Child’s ‘I could have been better’ at Bristol Old Vic.

I wasn’t going to write on my blog anymore. A bit like Jimmy Whiteaker. I had a little strop and called the world a wanker.

But while I was there, in the audience, I made something. I made a plane. A paper plane. It was green. I launched it toward the stage. It flew, then my plane was picked out amongst all the other planes, and then the plane became words, and the words became meaningful to someone or someone’s somebody or something. And this person kept them close to their heart.

So I thought maybe I should find a way to give this writing thing another go. Because maybe even if it’s only a few people, or even one person… You can make a meaningful difference, to someone, or someone’s somebody or something, out there in the gloom.

I decide to see the play firstly because of the striking photography which became such an attraction to me I had to then buy a ticket.  I do frequent Bristol South Swimming Pool in Bedminster (a very fine establishment – you should try it) although I’ve never had a penchant for water wings especially.

The play, performed solo by James Whiteaker tells the story of  Jimmy a likeable 30 year old railway worker resigned to a life on the platform where people don’t listen to his announcements and he spends his time as an outside observer of everyday life.  Determined to follow in the footsteps of his all time idol Duncan Goodhew, we witness events in the build up and outcome of the local over 10’s swimming competition, as Jimmy in spite of the lack of a posh swimming kit, magazine exposure or other benefits, uses the situation to his advantage and enters the event in the absence of an upper age limit. Jimmy’s character you cannot dislike, he is reassuringly presented to us ‘flaws and all’ and is vulnerable, idealistic, athletic, romantic with a love for the classic yoghurt drink ‘yop’ and ambition enough to pop out the end of his verruca socks, as well as being childish and disconnected at times.

Jimmy combines comedy, storytelling,  video projection and an all too short moment of a capella as well as some stunning movement embodying the dichotomy of the desire to love versus the desire to fight – with love ultimately winning through.  Also thought provoking were the intriguing hand conversation and now infamous ‘hand dance’ which I was grateful enough to have the best view of.

The storytelling is supported by a brilliant set  – the highlight being an almost floating model swimming pool made of liquorice allsorts (you should go just on this basis alone) as well as video projection and other hanging/suspended items.

(Free floating..photo credit: Bristol Old Vic)

The audience were delighted to take part in the paper plane activity and not one person seemed to hesitate or delay over this at all. I did have one breakthrough moment as someone in the audience declined to volunteer for a different action and Jimmy suggested ‘What about the person next to you?  – this made me think about a number of things.

The final tableaux is a powerful  one and it’s easy to think that the story of Jimmy is all dark, a tale of failure and of broken dreams, but look more closely and you will find that it is a heart warming, funny and often honest commentary about messing up and admitting your truths. For me, ultimately the message of ‘I could have been better’ is this:

It is only at the point of spectacular failure that our journey really begins.

(Bristol Parkway rail station September 5th)

Idiot Child are Jimmy Whiteaker and Anna Harpin  and ‘I could have been better’ is showing at Bristol Old Vic until 13th October . You can book tickets here:


I’d go and see it if I were you…