Love Song to Lavender Menace review at Royal Lyceum Theatre Studio, Edinburgh – ‘celebratory’
Pulling ghosts out of the air – or rather off the shelves – James Ley’s historical drama recalls the years in the early 1980s when Edinburgh’s lesbian and gay bookshop, Lavender Menace, supplied both forbidden literature and, in social terms, a route out of the closet.
Not-quite couple, Matthew McVarish’s matter-of-fact Glen and Pierce Reid’s young idealist Lewis, spend the last night of the bookshop’s existence in 1987 packing the shelves and rehearsing Lewis’ homage to Sigrid Nielsen, who had founded the shop in 1982 with Bob Orr.
Their slight fictional romance is just just enough to sustain Ley’s leaps into history, literature, time travel and LGBT lives based on interviews, quotes from books and anecdotes from history.
It is all very meta, and Ley makes necessarily heavy use of this material, although Ros Philips’ playful direction succeeds in showing much more than might be expected.
McVarish and Reid launch into a blaze of caricatures, all based on fact and presented with a hearty twist.
Played out on Mamoru Iriguchi’s clever touring set of books glowing from blacked-out bookshelves, the production is lit with real invention by Laura Hawkins and well served by Kevin Murray’s sound design incorporating iconic 1980s hits. It has a real celebratory feel. The darkness of that time – Aids, Section 28, closeted lives – is there and acknowledged, but this is also a thoroughly entertaining and important piece of LGBT social history.
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