“Time moves differently in the dark”
Cover Her Face, Inky Cloak’s trans reinterpretation of The Duchess of Malfi is one of those rare things, a show that has properly stuck in my memory, so the news of their new show – the intriguingly titled We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary – was most pleasing indeed. That it promised an uplifting story of the power of gay friendship and the enduring importance of queer spaces, plus the pulsing beats of 1980s club sounds, was the cherry on the proverbial.
Set in 1981, two young black gay men discover the safe haven of the London gay club scene, but only find real sanctuary when they take advantage of the connections they’re building to create their own club night to reflect and respect all the things they are – black, British, gay, fabulous. Success, as ever though, comes at a cost, and not just personally in what proved to be a most devastating decade for the LGBT community.
Writer/director/producer team Daniel Fulvio and Martin Moriarty’s love for the era, and the subject, and the depth of their research is unquestionable, their incorporation of extended dance sequences (fiercely choreographed by Mina Aidoo and ferociously performed by Jordan Ajadi and Shawn Willis) perfectly evoking the changing trends of the age, alongside a detailed script covering the contrasting shifts in gay subculture across different parts of London.
Jahvel Hall’s DJ-in-the-making Michael and Oseloka Obi’s trainee lighting tech Joseph are both strong as the friends whose ascendancy the show tracks but they occasionally struggle to give life to dialogue that tends to the leaden in its overly expository nature. Carl Mullaney’s drag act Brandi and Dean Graham’s horny club promoter Paul have more fun with their more liberated characters, though even they have to deal with a little too much speechifying.
But in the neon brights of Ingrid Hu’s set, We Raise Our Hands… remains a fascinating, multi-disciplinary work of real interest, a real tribute to the invaluable black gay contribution to the evolution of dance music and an acknowledgement of the importance of the very queer spaces that are increasingly under threat in London today.