The journey of self-discovery and coming out is not a smooth, clear road for most. In many countries it is seen as a death sentence to live an authentic life. Playwright and Director Emily Aboud creates a theatre production like never before. In a part-cabaret, part-play format, three MCs (Nicholle Cherrie, Yolanda Ovide and Charlotte Dowding) host a variety show with an innovative spin. Weaved with verbatim interviews, we are taken on a trip through the history of carnival and Caribbean festive celebration. Mainly focusing on the experiences and perspectives of queer women from Trinidad and Tobago, Lagahoo Productions‘ latest conquest delves into the meaning of queerness in a homophobic space.
Opening on a menstrual cup filled with Wray Nephew, the tone of light-hearted humour and joviality is set. Nicholle Cherrie (Doctors, Black Love and Leave Taking) is the first MC to take the stage, Cherrie is able to build tension and suspense effortlessly. The menstrual cup is seen as a coveted prize between the three MCS, and also highlights the antics that carnival goers get up to when trying to smuggle in alcohol, this builds nostalgia and resonates with the Caribbean community and people who have attended carnival and festivals alike. A prominent narrative theme of ‘coming out’ is explored through various scenarios, one of which was a gameshow contest. Which consisted of rapid fire questions that each contestant would have to state how they would successfully come out regardless of the repercussions they faced. Eventually building the courage up to the ‘Boss Battle’ Level where they would face the boss (their mother) and fully come out the ‘closet’. This is a hilarious take on the trials and tribulations of not being heterosexual. As people will try to question the validity of your orientation, since you are not conforming to heteronormative values.
We are then taken to a burlesque number performed by Yolanda Ovide (Mischief Theatre’s GROAN UPS ). Ovide is building up the courage to tell her mother that she is a lesbian and is on the phone with a love interest for moral support. This performance is threaded through the whole show as a crescendo to the boss battle level. A sequinned nipple tassel and blazer clad Ovide navigates the mental fight taken in anticipating the reaction of a loved one. Ovide gives an emotionally strong performance, and conveys a captivating portrayal of her character.
Splintered tackles hard-hitting politics with wit and pomp, it is an entertaining history lesson on the birth of carnival. Carnival is not only a festival, it is an act of defiance when faced with oppression. Carnival provides an escape for Caribbean people to stay strong in the face of adversity. The use of camp style deconstructs the status quo and society’s conventions, during carnival the lines of gender are blurred. Queerness is only acceptable under the male gaze, making the queer people of Trinidad and Tobago feel as though their queer sexuality is not their own. This is further conveyed in the ‘Pope’ scene, religion is used as a construct to force people to believe that queerness is wrong and ungodly. The three MCs then perform a would-be sermon as a rap song, rapping that the ‘Penis was made for the vagina’ and that ‘Adam was made for Eve not Steve’ which are both common destructive views of religious homophobic people. This sheds light on the experiences of queer people in religious spaces and the feeling of not being welcome.
All of these scenes are constructed to be ‘relatable, gay, content’ as disclosed in the play. The vulnerability gives a sense of intimacy between the audience and cast. Earlier instances of discovering their queerness is documented as it ‘always starts with the best friend’ which can be quite lonely when the best friend is straight. This gave a heartwarming and relatable portrayal young love and first time crushes. This is seen in the scene consisting of the two school girls trying to revise for a test, but one cannot seem to concentrate as she is in love with her best-friend and everything that they study is a reminder of her feelings. Aboud then discusses this in the interviews, whereby the interviewees all shared similar experiences. But felt as though they could not act on it or share their feelings. Charlotte Dowding (Theatre 503‘s Commercial Break & Dumbledore is so Gay) is an expressive performer, she is able to embody the deep set vulnerability of wanting to be honest but not wanting the rejection that comes with that.
The same vulnerability and expression is seen in the movement of the cast, Mariama Devers who worked on the movement for the play brings authentic Caribbean dance moves like ‘daggering’ and ‘whining’ to the west end stage. This is some of the many nuances that gave the play life. Aboud and Devers’ collaboration on capturing the essence of the Caribbean carnival experience is a wholesome and worthwhile watch. Aboud’s innovative writing in breaking down the conventions of society, sexuality, politics and theatre through light humour, and real first hand experiences is a palatable lesson in educating the masses.
Splintered is currently running at Soho Theatre until April 29th, tickets are from £12 and can be bought here.