‘Lavender Beards’ by Isabella Woolston is a comedic, heartwarming send-up of 50s American Sitcoms, set during the middle of the Red and Lavender Scares. What could be a premise for a chilling drama, of a group of homosexuals being visited by their new neighbours, who are invested in finding and arresting homosexuals for subverting the US State, is hilariously turned on its head by Woolston, her Co-director Miruna Tiberiu and their wonderful cast.
The show follows married couple David (Liam Macmillian) and Evelyn (Sofya Boruleva) as they both try to hide their homosexual affairs from each other. These two both perfectly execute the comedic nature of this situation, whilst maintaining a sense that, regardless of their sexualities not aligning, they have a deep respect and love for each other. We are first introduced to Evelyn’s love interest, Liza (Emily Gibson), who is a staunch lesbian communist, proud of her independence from male influence on her life. Gibson plays the part amazingly, with such wonderful facial expressions and chemistry with Boruleva. David, on the other hand, is seeing his boss in the civil service, Mr Richardson (Daniel Pereira). Pereira does a fantastic job of playing the kind of code switching queer people often have to do when in hostile spaces, though of course this has a brilliant comedic spin on it. David and Evelyn do not know about each others affairs, but this is all thrown into disarray when the Homohaters move into the neighbourhood.
Here is the central conceit of the play – a dinner party with two homophobes and four homosexuals. Woolston’s writing really mines this for all it’s worth, with every character getting some fantastic jokes in. A performances are given by Nadia Lines and Holly Varndell in the roles of Harold and Angela Homohater respectively. Harold’s tacky grey wig, obviously drawn on moustache and exaggerated masculine swagger are a marvel to behold, and Lines really gives a side-splitting performance. Angela is much more understated in her demeanour, keen to fulfill the heterosexual ideal of the obedient housewife, and her naiivite to the world of homosexuals provides some fabulous moments, which Varndell truly delivers on.
Woolston’s examination and subversion of the sitcom genre, so often devoted to nuclear families, is truly wonderful, whilst bringing to life a genuinely tragic and oft-overlooked era in history. The other refreshing thing is the refusal to turn this tragic – the show delivers on the kind of queer escapism we so rarely get in media, and it was genuinely heartwarming to watch, and something the world needs more of. As already mentioned, but it bears repeating, the chemistry within the two couples is wonderful and the show could not have been cast better. Gibson is particularly stunning in her role, delivering some fantastic one liners and bringing a wonderful cynicism to Boruleva’s optimism.
I also particularly appreciated Boruleva’s commitment to a transatlantic accent, and Lines’ southern accent for Harold was a true rib tickler.
I do wish perhaps the show had made better use of Company’s set – it felt particularly odd to watch the actors lie on a bare mattress on the floor when there was a perfectly made bed on the upper level of the metrodeck. Otherwise, I found Matthew Wadey’s lighting was effective at creating the warm homely feeling, Perrin Ford’s music and Aimee Hallworth and Jaden Tsui’s costume, both really helped set the show in its time and place.
If you like comedic hijinks and particularly wholesome queer stories, then Lavender Beards is for you, and I highly reccomend giving this wonderful show a watch.
Lavender Beards by Isabella Woolston is on at 11pm the ADC from the 15th-17th June. Tickets may be bought here: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/play/lavender-beards/