By April Howard
One sits down in The Spare Room and is faced with a sofa, a table and a coffee table, all carefully chaotic, mimicking our own flats and houses. Yet, the distinct pops of colour and rainbow paraphernalia remind us that we are here to watch a play which is first and foremost a discussion of queer identity, which becomes increasingly clear as the dialogue unfolds.
Queerbaiting is set on one Wednesday night in with two young women Lizzie (Lily Ratnavel) and Beth (Maddie Lock), a regular pizza and movie night for them. Yet, we sense this night is an idiosyncratic Wednesday night for they have Thai food and Beth is refusing to watch the next film on Lizzie’s list of ‘educational’ films: ‘Bend it Like Beckham’.
A debate ensues. How can a film with two female footballers fighting over a man be seen as queer? Lizzie thus argues that being queer is more than who you date, Beth clearly does not think so, pointing out that being queer is not a central tenet of your personality.
This debate is an interesting one, especially for bisexual and pansexual women who are so often made to think that the moment they date a man, they have been changed to heterosexual, their identity erased. Sophie Wright (writer) does an excellent job in staging a debate between queer women about what it is to be queer. Beth and Lizzie represent two polarities amongst the LGBT+ community, the quiet, less confident queer person in Beth (who wants to live her life and treat her sexuality very separately, “compartmentalise” it) and the loud and proud in Lizzie who feels as though her queerness spills over into every part of her.
To me, the debate is exciting and refreshing. Wright expertly weaves into a natural dialogue between two flatmates a fiery and sometimes moving discussion of queerness. I revel in the courage and freshness of theatre created by queer women for queer women. I commend Queerbaiting for keeping a room full of people hooked on a discussion for an hour that, in reality, they may only consider for a passing ten minutes if they are straight, or indeed, if they are queer, they may grabble with their whole life.
While I appreciate this debate, I feel a little as though there is further the play could have gone. The emotional climaxes felt strained and imperfect, it is definitely difficult to tackle such overwhelming emotions in an hour, but perhaps more could be done to achieve these moments with greater ease.
Lily Ratnavel gives an incredible performance. She is confident and at ease navigating the varying level of emotionality in the dialogue, and thus gives a flawless performance. Ratnavel is the perfect fit for Lizzie. Maddie Lock acts as a perfect contrast. She performs excellently, blending her character’s nervousness in approaching discussions of identity with her sense of humour and amicability. Her moments of outrage are a little jarring, perhaps as the nervousness is so hard to shake off. Their two characters are expertly placed and directed by Kimran Rana, understanding and exaggerating their particular dynamic very well.
The humour is well-placed and brilliant. As Lizzie points out, part of the success of ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ lies in the fact that “it is a film about football, made for people who don’t give a shit about football”. Lizzie also jibes at ‘Carol’, pointing out how it is laughable to some for Cate Blanchett to play a lesbian. These moments of humour at times will go down the best with queer women, again pointing out that this play has little interest in watering down its queerness to cater to a heterosexual audience, which I find refreshing.
This being said, the enjoyment of Queerbaiting is open to all. Audience members can all delight in the wit, the natural chemistry between Ratnavel and Lock. As a gay woman, I am delighted that the talented cast and crew are all amazingly utilised to explore the ins and outs of the queer mind accepting itself.