Review: The Unconventionals, VAULT Festival

The Unconventionals is an unconventional look at queer life in 1930s London at the VAULT Festival

“Could any of you possibly show me the way to Heaven?”

A fascinating one this. Jude Taylor’s The Unconventionals is a cabaret reworking of his earlier musical Is He Musical?, marrying inspiration from true stories of queer life in 1930s London with a purgatorial journey to a hoped-for redemption. It’s a bold combination and one which worked fitfully for me, moments of musical bliss sit alongside a small measure of confusion.

A darling of the 1930s London scene, Wilfred now finds himself trapped in a metaphysical way in contemporary London. Led by spirit guide (I think) Lady Lavender (Francesca Fenech), they’re made to endure a journey through memories of their past, reflecting on connections made, loves found and lost, societal conventions bucked. Only when they’ve fully reckoned with their self will the doors to Heaven open.

This framing device of that spiritual odyssey of sorts doesn’t always feel like the best fit, for the scenes of 1930s life, the growing friendship between Wilfred (Elliot Wooster) and Laurence (Barry O’Reilly), or May and Lillian as they become known, is largely delightful. The arrival of Hollywood actress Daphne (Tamara Morgan) in the mix adds another shade to the rainbow grouping here and the snapshots into key moments in their lives are both tuneful and watchable.

Taylor’s eclectic score draws from across the decades. Naturally, there’s a preponderance of 1930s style but the most exciting moments come when disparate elements crash together – the track that is essentially what a duet between Noël Coward and the Human League would sound like is a real highlight. The clue is right there in the name – The Unconventionals is just that, unconventional, but a fitting tribute to queer lives so bravely lived.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
The Unconventionals is booking at the VAULT Festival until 19th February

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