“Carnival is gay as shit!” grins the MC of Lagahoo’s glittering cabaret of Caribbean queerness. SPLINTERED, which comes to the VAULT Festival after a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe, is every bit as joyful and defiant as it is moving. The show, written and directed by Emily Aboud, is a celebration of carnival and what it means for queer womxn in Trinidad & Tobago, mixing verbatim interviews with dancehall beats and glitter. It’s a party but it’s political; in between the comedy skits and cabaret-style acts, Aboud earnestly asks us whether religion, colonialism or dancehall music is to blame for the homophobia in the Caribbean, and how do those at risk survive? Whether you go to carnival every year or have just been introduced to it for the first time, SPLINTERED is a party where everybody is free and everybody is welcome, no matter who you are or how you identify.
This form-breaking show is driven by the ensemble cast of Alice Vilanculo, Chante Faucher and Charlotte Dowding as our energetic party hosts. They bounce off one another with ease and their energy on stage compliments the show’s chaotic, free-spirted energy well. One of my favourite, if bizarre devices, SPLINTERED uses is the ceremonial passing of a vodka shot in a mooncup between our hosts (because, as Faucher tells us, what else would MC stand for, right?).
It’s fair to say that humour is at the heart of this production. Aboud’s writing really captures the defiant spirit of carnival, which originated as an anti-establishment protest against British and French colonialism in the Caribbean. Just as carnival openly rejects and mocks the establishment through partying and humour, Aboud challenges the establishment through theatre. Over the course of the hour, there are pastiches of Shakespeare, Kander & Ebb and even challenges to the idea of traditional play structure as patriarchy. She reminds us that even though carnival is a party, it is and always has been political, and that must not be forgotten.
One of the standout moments for me during SPLINTERED is Vilanculo’s turn as the newly awakened lesbian, Ruby. A recurring act throughout the cabaret, Ruby is a sexy and sophisticated young lady cursed with terrible phone signal. Every so often she comes to the stage to gossip with a friend about a new girlfriend, but gets her wires crossed, to increasingly comic effect. One of the running gags in SPLINTERED is how the most difficult person to come out with is your mother, an experience most queer people can relate to; however, when Ruby finally manages to come out to her mother, the phone line goes dead. Aboud is an expert comic writer, knowing exactly when to undercut the audience and remind them that while there is a lot of joy and humour to be found in the experiences of queer womxn, there is always the underlying current of danger created by cultural homophobia. There are many more moments like this in the show where the performers onstage find joy and humour in the danger they’re in simply for existing as queer womxn, and this only helps to drive SPLINTERED’s message home.
As Dowding reminds us at the end of the show, queer folks in the Caribbean still live in danger and this show isn’t able to safely reach the people who need it most. SPLINTERED is a truly powerful piece of theatre which celebrates queerness in spite of the establishment. It’s an extremely gay party and I urge you to go.
SPLINTERED is playing VAULT Festival until 16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.