Metropolitan. Assimilate. Tolerance.
Buzz-words that are splashed across the liberal social media and journalistic media as frequently as Trump, Farage and LePen.
In Total Theatre Award Winner Scottee’s new show, they’re emblazoned across large blank walls in thick black paint. Words, words, words. But what do they actually mean? How do they make people feel, and are they in people’s hearts rather than minds?
The idea behind Putting Words in Your Mouth came from Scottee exploring the political voices and opinions of working class queer people in the UK. As he began to speak with people he found growing numbers of EDL and UKIP LGBT groups. Alongside audio producer Debbie Kilbride, he delved deeper, interviewing a variety of men (specifically) around the country.
The voices of men from Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester are channeled through Travis Alabanza, Jamal Gerald and Lasana Shabaz. Dressed in funereal black suits they stare out at us and, as RuPaul puts it, they lip-sync for their lives. Unlike verbatim pieces in which the performers mimic those interviewed, Scottee’s cast and co-devisers mouth their words to us. It’s a clever device, distancing the performers from a literal re-interpretation of the words being mimed and neatly tying into the age-old queer tradition. And unlike the Drag Racers in RuPaul’s world, you can’t switch off or laugh off the words that come out of these mouths – it’s imperative that we hear them.
As the stories venture from tales of coming out to empathising with and investing in Farage’s rhetoric, the bodies onstage become ‘feminised’. Black wigs are donned, lipstick administered, shiny black Thatcher-esque handbags perch on their elbows. Queer identity mixes with British tradition: racist remarks are mouthed by a black person; leftwing liberal values are challenged by those who ‘should’ be leftwing liberalists but entirely relate to the right-wing’s narrative on immigration.
The piece is calmly but searingly performed by Alabanza, Gerald and Shabazz. They seem to shudder inside after particular moments of mouthing off; their own opinions quietly shining in their eyes with subtle glances to each other or a tight, hurried embrace. A final lip sync to The Special AKA’s Racist Friend is an urgent finale. Like the rest of the show it’s a battle-cry to hear people, talk to people and realise that we can’t just keep Facebooking words like ‘metropolitan’, ‘assimilate’ and ‘tolerance’. We need to hear the words from other people’s mouths and we desperately need to start a conversation before more and more people feel no other way out than building walls.
Putting Words in Your Mouth was devised and directed by Scottee, and performed by Travis Alabanza (in centre of featured image), Jamal Gerald (left) and Lasana Shabazz. Photo by Holly Revell.