In starting to write this review, I did a quick Google search for ‘stats for LGBT women in theatre’. These do not appear to exist; instead, all I found were articles about regional theatre and (excellent) pieces of student journalism. In a way, this proved the point I wanted to make even more: LGBT+ women are so erased in theatre that statistics detailing it don’t even exist. It’s for these reasons that I so admire what Somewhere to Belong sets out to do.
A one-woman play coming in at just under an hour, Somewhere to Belong is split into two halves. The first sees CK, a queer/bisexual woman, put into a gameshow scenario where she is asked by the disembodied voice of a TV host to define herself in order to win the prize of ‘approval’. The challenges of the game show see her try to squeeze herself into cardboard boxes of various sizes, dress up as a unicorn and perform dressage, and attempt to make eating digestives seductive. In the second half, the dazzling gameshow lights dim and CK speaks directly to the audience about her experiences growing up queer and finding the vocabulary to describe her identity, before hearing the voices of other bisexual people describing similar experiences.
While the first half puts forward interesting ideas around performativity, to me the comedy feels forced and the metaphors very heavy-handed. Kim Scopes as CK is immediately likeable, but she spends this portion of the play posturing around the stage, contorting herself in and out of boxes: the lack of dialogue leaves too much resting on physical comedy that doesn’t carry its weight. While there are some Miranda Hart-esque lovably awkward laughs, most of the first half-hour feels strained. It also feels out of touch with modern discussions of sexuality; instead, revolving too literally around clichés such as that of ‘being put in a box’.
The second section of the play offers a glimpse of a different, considerably more nuanced production. As the lights drop, CK speaks honestly about her own experiences, with details that ring true. As she describes how her school saw a few boys come out as gay while ‘lesbian’ remained a ‘dirty’ word, the atmosphere in the theatre changes to one of shared remembrance. The key difference is that this part of the show feels human: with mentions of cystitis and the bad acting of Channel 5, listening to CK talk begins to feel like having a deep chat with a close friend. This culminates in audio of interviews with other bisexuals playing as CK turns on strings of fairy lights around the stage, demonstrating the community that she’s been missing. This is perhaps the show’s most effective moment, hinting at the more cohesive and thoughtful play that could’ve been.
In a way, the first half is necessary to give the stripped-back second act its power. At the same time, however, it needs a lot of reworking to get across the point it is trying to make in a more authentic way. There’s potential with this show: the game show format is promising and fun, and the show’s mission is so important. On this occasion, the end result is too jumbled and awkward, but it still has the audience cheering, nodding in vehement agreement, and laughing out loud at times. We’re beginning to see theatre’s representation of LGBT+ women improve in the mainstream with musicals like Fun Home and The Prom, so it’s brilliant to see this change happening in small-scale fringe theatre too. Hopefully, there’s much more to come.
Somewhere to Belong is playing at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 31 July 2021. For more information and tickets, see the Lion and Unicorn website.