-Reviewed by James Webster–
Quiltbag – an acronym standing for Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer
OR – an unbelievably charming, friendly and welcoming evening of crafts and cabaret with a queer-friendly focus.
A cuddly kind of cabaret …
Upon entering Quiltbag on a very brrrr-worthy, cold December night, I was greeted by several tables full of smilings folks all cheerfully making paper snowflakes (and, for the more adventurous, penguins) to decorate the space. It was immediately clear that the event was as much about socialising and making things together as it was about the performing, which gave a very laid-back and comfortable atmosphere to the proceedings.
Led by Ann Domoney, the Quiltbag team have clearly put a lot of thought and effort into making the night as accepting, friendly and safe a space as possible. Everyone’s encouraged to ‘do art’ and reminded that if you’re going to draw someone you should ask their consent first. And throughout the evening tickets were being sold for a raffle in support of Broken Rainbow (a charity dedicated to confronting and eliminating domestic violence within and against the LGBT communities) where the audience could win a variety of cool craft/poetry prizes.
The result is a bit like the event itself has gained sentience and just given you a big old hug. Plus, the East Oxford Community Centre has a cheap bar, so that’s nice too.
Sparklingly anarchic hosting …
The evening’s performance was wittily and warmly by Lucy Ayrton, who was clearly having a lot of fun with some hilariously silly audience interaction. She kept a lively, involving and fun atmosphere going throughout the evening, keeping the lovely crowd super-enthused.
Having seen Lucy host before (notably at Hammer & Tongue) it felt here like she had let herself off the leash a little, allowing herself to riff with the audience and indulge her endearing silliness a bit more.
Sasha Rocket – intelligently questioning comedy …
Sasha‘s comic stylings were clever and impishly creative, their songs (played, of course, on the Ukulele) lovably geeky and pleasantly catchy. There was some material that fell flat, and occasional jokes that offered more of a chortle than a belly laugh, but such joys as love songs to Karen Gillen and the very fun ‘Why Don’t I Have a Dinosaur Sidekick (and Where the Fuck is My Giant Robot)?’ were eminently appealing.
So, while I wasn’t aching with laughter or anything, I was certainly entertained. And even the bits that weren’t necessarily super-funny to me were still asking questions to which I want answers (whether that question be ‘seriously, where’s my giant robot?’ or ‘why is sci-fi so gender normative?’).
Jessica Law – unearthly, super-fun music of murder and discord
I struggled to describe what makes Law‘s music appealing (this is at least in part because I enjoyed her set so much my notes are pretty much unintelligible). She can certainly turn a phrase, her lyrics being equal parts playful, macabre and creative, while her melodies seemed to me to play with the contrast between cheerfully tuneful and occasionally discordant, creating a trippy and uber-expressive sound.
Her songs tackle interesting stories, and evoke intriguing voices; for example, her ‘School for Lost Souls’ being pleasingly unsettling and weird, her voice proving perfect for such unearthly songs – in my notes I wrote ‘it’s like she’s feeding, like, just chomping down on her own beautifully twisting turns of song and words’, and while I’m not really sure what I meant there, it certainly feels apt.
Perhaps the best example of Law‘s ability to entertain and intrigue is ‘Jack the Reanimator’, the plink-plonk melody of which is both charming and grating, like slinky fingers running up and down the spine, while her voice soars over top like a consumptive church-mouse with huge lungs (in an awesome way, according to my notes).
Stephanie Dogfoot – flights of powerful and amusing poetical whimsy
Stephanie Dogfoot is a multiple-time slam champion of both the UK and Singapore, a right-on wordsmith and master of comic poignancy. This was Stephanie‘s last gig in the UK, before returning to Singapore (for a while at least) and it was something of a stonker, my notes at this point being punctuated with little doodles of hearts and emphasis given by liberal use of the adjective ‘fucking’, as it wasn’t enough to say it was ‘wonderful’, I apparently had to say it was ‘fucking wonderful’.
And it really was fucking wonderful. With Dogfoot‘s poems conjuring a kind of matter-of-fact magic, full of warm, everyday rhythms and rhymes – aspects of life exaggerated or distilled to their most joyous, beautiful and/or ridiculous. Her poem ‘Elbows’, for example, was an incredibly touching mix of humour and pain that felt at once accessible and hugely affecting and ‘Greatest Hippy Tiger-Mother The World has Ever Seen’ was a hilarious mash-up and dissection of parental stereotypes (uptight Singaporean/laid back hippy) that gave rise to such ace lines as ‘no spliff break til you finish your algebra!’. While ‘New Words for Never’, a reworking of Peter Pan was a drugged-up, loved-up, magical teenage fable that pretty much broke me as the fairytale crashed horribly into reality (favourite line: ‘Age is a social construct, you son of a bitch!’).
A superb set from a poet who always finds the ice-cool magic in supposedly ordinary things.
A lovely and accessible evening of joy and fun …
That’s what Quiltbag Cabaret is. And the next one’s coming up TONIGHT at the East Oxford Community Centre and features the excellent Lashings of Ginger Beer Time! Get along if you can!