Review: ARABITCH, VAULT Festival

ARABITCH at VAULT Festival is the queer Arab clown show you didn’t know you needed, and comes with some top Arab pop recommendations

“There aren’t any Lebanese lesbian bookclubs around”

You don’t get many queer Arab clown shows to the pound so that alone (along with one of the best titles of this year’s VAULT Festival) makes ARABITCH an intriguing prospect. And as a work in progress, it certainly has the ingredients for a powerful exploration of intersectional gender politics, specifically how to resolve being both a member of the LGBTQ+ community and Arabic. 

Writer/performer Sara Dawood does this through a wide-ranging hour which feels like its heart lies in cabaret, an aura well-cultivated in Serafina Cusack’s production and the intimacy of the Pit. Participatory game shows sit alongside spoken word interludes, confessional coming out stories are followed by exuberant dance, there’s even a measure of dragged-up time-travelling body-swapping.

It is clear that Dawood has a lot to say, all of it heartfelt and deeply considered. She draws lines from racist narratives in Western society as a whole to the the dominance of the cis white gay narrative to the hypocrisy in only really noticing LGBTQ+ Arab people when they’re being murdered, demanding we think about how this might actually affect an individual still going through the process of finding their own queer Arab identity.

And there’s something fascinating in the exploration of Arab culture (about which I know shamefully little) both past in the form of Abu Nuwas, an 8th century queer Iraqi poet and present in Lebanese pop icon Nancy Ajram. The meshing of this with the overt fun of elements like ‘Name That Lesbian’ doesn’t quite feel there yet though, the show wearing its transitions a little too clearly. Still, ARABITCH’s is a voice worth listening to and looking out for. 

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Arabitch is booking at the VAULT Festival until 1st March

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