Review: An Apology to Lady Gaga, VAULT Festival

Scram & Scrum’s An Apology to Lady Gaga is a seriously thought-provoking look into queer identity at the VAULT Festival

“You can’t just be gay, you have to enter the gay world”

First things first. There’s a reference in An Apology to Lady Gaga to someone born in 1998 who isn’t apparently still a child and I’m not even kidding, it felt like a slap in the face. My issues with the passing of time aside, this is a powerfully thought-provoking short play that really takes the time to wrestle with the way in which pop culture shapes so much of contemporary queer identity and what that means to different LGBTQ+ individuals.

Tim and Matty are two such individuals. Schoolfriends who existed in mostly different orbits, a chance meeting in a Leeds gay bar years later leads to a delightfully charming relationship in a nice Manchester apartment. The pair are at markedly different points in their levels of ‘gayness’ for want of a better term. Every other sentence for Tim is a Drag Race reference whereas Matty recoils from the prospect of a Pride blanket taking pride of place in their living room. They’re still compatible though, right?

Ed Cooke’s play explores that subject thoughtfully and with an impressive degree of balance. For all the banter about getting your gay badge (I’m still waiting…), there’s no judgement about the appropriate level of gayness. As Tim and Matty wade through the wealth of gay cultural touchstones (Little Mix! Doctor Who! Pup masks…) to work out where they both stand, you wonder about how deeply we draw on these things. And as Matty’s mental health declines, we’re left to severely question their importance.

The switch from comedy to drama is well managed by director Giulia Hallworth, though the show does sometimes try a little too hard to marry the entire gay experience with the relationship difficulties here, overegging the parallels that are scarcely needed. Lines like the one up top and the heartbreaking observation about Heartstopper prove much more effective in evoking the troubled emotional terrain here, and the possibilities of a path through it.

Cooke (as Matty) and fellow performer Nefyn Edwards (as Tim) offer a lovely portrait of a thoroughly believable relationship, from its Gaga-inspired beginnings to its shift into flux, sprinklings of Sharon Robinson-Marsh’s movement adding extra dimension to their partnership and a neat point of difference to the production at large. And thematically the play is endlessly intriguing as it reminds us of the importance of individual journeys (with their own needs for help) as well as communal joy – something that has always struck me about things like National Coming Out Day.

Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
An Apology to Lady Gaga is booking at the VAULT Festival until 16th February

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