Tag Archives: Fanta Barrie

“The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs” at the Soho Theatre

Iman Qureshi’s queer musical comedy deserves to be a big hit. It’s funny and the songs, performed by the seven-strong titular choir, sound great. Plus, it’s Queer in proud, heart-warming fashion – addressing the concerns of a community with sensitivity and intelligence.

Director Hannah Hauer-King and the cast have a firm grasp on one-liners and wry observations guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. But the play’s strength comes with its diverse group characters – who are lovely to get to know.

The choir is led by Connie, an Owl (Older Wiser Lesbian!), full of eccentric appeal that enables Shuna Snow to make the character a starring role. There are great gags for Dina from Qatar, discovering her sexuality despite her grim husband, and more laughs for the frisky Ellie. In these roles Lara Sawalha and Fanta Barrie excel. There’s burgeoning romance for Fi and Brig (further strong performances from Kiruna Stamell and Mariah Louca). And the choir has new arrivals in a long-standing couple, Ana and Lori, whose squabbles are great fun for Claudia Jolly and Kibong Tanji to perform.

These women are all terrific – a joy to watch and listen to. Inclusion is the name of the game as the group bond and are selected to perform at Pride. Hurrah! And if the play had ended here, I’d have been, simply, very happy.

Up to the interval, The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs has a humour and sweetness that reminded me of the current Netflix hit, Heartstopper. The latter is a teen drama, of course, and Qureshi is writing for adults (with an adult wit). But there’s a similar sense of ‘Queer Joy’, a concern for Representation with a capital R and confident, admirable characters not just defined by their sexuality.

Qureshi doesn’t just want to make us laugh. The second half of her play is much more serious. Hauer-King (one half of Damsel Productions) handles this shift expertly, especially with scenes of potential violence, and the cast members further impress with their aptitude for real drama. That investment in the characters pays off as relationships end, therapy is sought out and the adorable Dina’s fate becomes a cause for concern. 

An upset at the Pride event raises the issue of including transwomen in the choir, allowing Louca and Stamell a brilliant scene that deftly lays out this contentious issue. We are shown the importance of language and how essential safe spaces – like the choir itself – are. Qureshi provides so much debate there’s a danger of falling into some of the clichés she has earlier lampooned. But her points are important and well made. Thankfully, a love for the characters created and a palpable sense of community provides an uplifting end.

Until 11 June 2022


Photo by Helen Murray

“The Amber Trap” at Theatre 503

Here’s a strange situation – writing a review you don’t really want anyone to read. Because much of the success of Tabitha Mortiboy’s new play, staged with customary skill by Damsel Productions, comes with the journey it takes and the twist it contains. Do see it for that alone, as surprises in the theatre are memorable treats.

The Amber Trap opens on a gentle romance. Katie and Hope are lovers who work together in a small shop, and Oliva Rose Smith and Fanta Barrie make the young couple a pleasure to watch. Obviously, you know the course of this true love will get bumpy and, when gap-year would-be medic Michael arrives, youthful, keen and cute, it seems we’re in for a coming-of-age story. Here, the questioning of sexuality is nicely written and handled with sensitivity, yet might have a surer grasp of its comic potential.

Things become more serious and thought provoking – but not quickly. Director Hannah Hauer-King respects the text and doesn’t rush, lulling us into a false sense of security. The care Hauer-King takes is clear and convincing. In truth, the play isn’t quite long enough. The role of the shop’s manager, an older, soon-to-be divorcee, becomes a bit of a puzzle and proves a part that Jenny Bolt has to struggle with. But Hauer-King gives the show weight, with judicious pacing that demands pauses for thought.

The thinking that creeps up on us is a serious point – which should occupy us all, but often doesn’t – that shows Mortiboy has her finger on the pulse of debate. The play reveals Michael’s male, heterosexual gaze on the female, gay couple. I’m a little too squeamish to enjoy Mortiboy’s heavy metaphor with an eyeball, but it’s effective (just ask George Bataille). And the point that Michael demands control, with a chilling infantile glee, is important. His view of the women is on a spectrum of cheap thrills and insulting disbelief, while his crush on Hope becomes increasingly menacing.

Misha Butler

Michael’s impact on the couple is scary and all too real, and Katie and Hope’s responses of, respectively, fear and anger are on the nose. Rose Smith’s powerful reaction to a cheeky kiss Michael steals is salutary – this is not an act to dismiss (were you tempted to?). But it’s the role of Michael that is Mortiboy’s key move. His slight physicality, youth and status as the new arrival at work – all of which Misha Butler, who takes the part, carries well – cannot diminish his privileged position among the women. Michael’s sense of entitlement may be exaggerated for dramatic effect – and arguably the action turns nasty too quickly and too close to the end of the play – but, as his instability becomes obvious and his toxicity infectious, the bold structure makes the piece original, disturbing and rather brilliant.

Until 18 May 2019


Photos by The Other Richard