Last performances are today and we encourage you to join the queue for returns…
By Suman Bhuchar
DESERVEDLY nominated for an Offie (off West End) award in the category of Performance Ensemble, this musical drama has much to recommend it.
The show, by Iman Qureshi, is a refreshing warm-hearted comedy with songs. It sheds a light on “community, queerness and belonging”.
www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with the writer and asked her what inspired her to write this play?
There is a lack of lesbian spaces, stories and lesbian cultural identity. I wanted to tell those stories that give pride to a community not represented before and also provide healing, she told acv.
She means that while there are television dramas like the recent Channel 4, ‘It’s a Sin’ or plays like Larry Kramer’s ‘The Normal Heart’ which was recently revived at the National Theatre – that explores gay men’s experience, there are very few stories featuring lesbian identity and where people could come together for a collective sharing.
‘The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs’ features a cast of eight women who play a range of LGBTQI characters who meet regularly as part of a choir in a church hall. The group is then selected to perform at the main stage of Pride. The show features dialogue and songs, and their riff on ‘My Favourite Things’ is a hoot!
The roles appear to be archetypes of queer identities although Qureshi disputes that notion: “I am not sure I would call them archetypes – they were written as unallocated dialogue with just the hubbub and chitter chatter and scenes.”
Nevertheless, all the characters are fun and their identities are varied. There is Ana (Claudia Jolly) the white post-colonial academic whose partner is Lori (Kibong Tanji), a slightly muscular black broadband engineer; then there is Dina (Lara Sawalha) the closeted housewife from Qatar, who is in the UK on a Spouse Visa; and bonds with Ellie (Fanta Barrie) the potty mouthed, witty twenty something; while Brig (Mariah Louca) the transgender lawyer secretly fancies, Fi (Kiruna Stamell), a disabled woman undergoing a divorce. They are all conducted by Connie (Shauna Snow) who comes across as a sensible, middle-aged school teacher with her cardigan /skirts/leggings and black shoes.
There is one male actor, Fayz Bakhsh who plays Man – a range of male identities from the oppressive husband, to the homophobic man in the pub, to the delivery guy – you get the idea…
The show is joyous but it also deals with very difficult issues such as immigration and the LQBT community’s relationship to trans-people with sensitivity and understanding.
“I am quite heartbroken over the divisions in the LGBT community with many lesbians being transphobic and wanted to create some dialogue and understanding so lesbians might empathise with trans-women,” Qureshi told acv.
‘The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs’ is directed by Hannah Hauer-King, who also directed ‘The Funeral Director’ (2018), the earlier play by Qureshi which won the Papatango New Writing Prize. (See the links below).
Hauer-King said: “Plays with songs have a particular power and can connect with audiences in a special way.
“This is a story about belonging, harmony and togetherness, and the music of the choir feels like the perfect way to riff on these themes. But despite its lighter tones, Ministry is also a play asking some difficult questions about why lesbian women struggle to commune and take up space.”
‘The Funeral Director’ was a turning point for Qureshi as the show brought her wider acclaim and allowed her to write full time and give up her day job. ‘The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs’ was commissioned by Soho Theatre and Damsel productions, a company that produces new work by women and non-binary playwrights.
Qureshi is also working as an assistant director for the first time on Mark Ravenhill’s new play, ‘The Haunting of Susan A’ currently at King’s Head Theatre, Islington until June 26.
‘Ministry of Lesbian Affairs’ by Iman Qureshi until today (June 11), Soho Theatre, 21 Dean St, London W1D 3NE
More info: (2pm & 7.30pm today – returns) https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-ministry-of-lesbian-affairs