Event review: ‘Tales of Love Lost and Found’ at the Spread Eagle theatre, 7th February 2015

By - Wednesday 18th February, 2015

Catherine Pestano enjoys a life-affirming evening of lesbian love stories as part of Croydon’s LGBT month

The Not-So-Lovelies: front row left-to-right: Nic, Anne, Issy; back row left-to-right: Claire, Sam, Emma.
Photo by Anne Crump, used with permission.

Much dyke culture happens north of the river, in central or north east London, so it was a real treat to be able to attend a lesbian cultural event that I could walk to, as part of the programme of Croydon’s LGBT month. I hosted a get-together for the very popular South London Lesbian Meetup group (over 1,500 members at last count) and even those who could not attend said they were delighted to find a lesbian evening on their doorstep.

Tales of Love Lost and Found was an evening of short dramatic monologues, presented in the warm and welcoming upstairs theatre at the Spread Eagle pub in the centre of Croydon. The venue has a lovely intimacy with red velvet curtains, upstairs bar, a small stage and cabaret style tables at the front, with room for about 40 this way. A chandelier, candle lanterns on the table and Loveheart sweets on the table all added to an exciting, packed-out, pre-Valentine’s day vibe.

Each performer really owned the stage

Eight women aged between their 20s and 60s have formed a drama troupe, ‘The Not So Lovelies’ and six performed in this show. Anne, Claire, Emma, Issy, Nic and Sam have spent the last few months crafting some very personal tales, drawing on their personal ‘herstories’, to explore different perspectives on love. Members of the group have honed their dramatic skills in a variety of settings including drama groups by leading lesbian drama practitioners. This was their first independent venture, self-managing and self-directing. Co-operatively sharing, rehearsing and reshaping their anecdotes together has led to a very professional delivery. Each woman really owned the stage and delivered the emotional impact that their ideas and memories deserved.

Emma commented: “Talking about personal feelings and your life may seem a very nerve-wracking thing to do at the time but in fact it is a very important and liberating experience, for yourself and the LGBT community”.

A lot of fine lesbian posturing

Without offering spoilers, the session began with a warm welcome to set the context and then the individual tales included: the complications of hiding an exciting new relationship from your adult kids; a history of the initial meeting in a 25-year happy relationship, with nods to long lost lesbian feminist history and politics; the impact of intergenerational politics arising from new marriage laws and how this affected one joy-filled newlywed; reflections on the challenges of coping with new diagnoses of illness and disability; celebrations of first and forever love; and a tongue-twisting analysis of the lines of relationship and interconnections between lesbian lovers past and present.

Other glorious yarns covered diverse forms of love ranging from best friends, a found and lost pet, a girl group, a sibling, and memories of the Brownies. The eleven story programme ended with a group song of love, with audience participation and a lot of fine lesbian posturing on stage, to well-earned applause!

The monologues were highly specific to each individual but all the more universal for that, as we were immersed in intense moments, experienced by these girls, young women, and mature adults across the years. Comments from straight, gay, bi and lesbian audience members included: “moving ,intimate, very affecting, touching, really important, wonderful, amazing, precious, fantastic, helpful to me”.

This was a rich show whose after party went on until closing time

At approximately 45 minutes long, the show was rich and quite intensely stirring. The short form of each monologue took us through a wide range of situations and emotions, so I certainly felt I had received plenty. The ticket price was well set and opened the event to all. The only concern was that of access, often an issue for unfunded groups due to lack of affordable accessible venues. The group is keen to address this and are hoping to perform in a venue which has disabled access in the spring.

Testament to the humanity of the presentations was the bubble of excited talk across and between many women who had not attended together but found much to talk about with each other. The after party went on until closing time.

An interesting point arising from one bar conversation after the show came from a woman recounting her experiences as a young performer in a women’s group in the ’80s. Such creative culture and history are now lost as nothing was recorded, and LGBT history faces an extra challenge – it can be very fragmented and ephemeral. I ran a music project with an LGBT youth group and we were three generations – music workers ( in our 40s/50s), youth workers (in their 30s) and young people (in their teens). We had no culture in common other than a vague connection with the rainbow. So congratulations to The Not So Lovelies and I hope that this troupe may consider recording some of their performances for posterity. I shall willingly lend my camera to that.

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Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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