REVIEW BY GEORGE ROSS
Love Song to Lavender Menace is literally that. It’s a play which is a love performance to Scotland’s first lesbian, gay and feminist bookshop ‘Lavender Menace’, who opened their doors in Edinburgh, 1982 and sadly shut them in 1997. The play centres around two employees - Glen (portrayed by Matthew McVarish) and Lewis (portrayed by Pierce Reid) - on the eve of the shop’s closure. They attempt to pay homage to founders Bob and Sigrid through various heartfelt re-enactments, whilst diverging through the 80s in hot pants, ‘dramatic’ monologues amazingly delivered by the cast and a whole lot of 80s music.
The opening of the show not only grips you with the writing (James Ley), but the expertly finessed lighting (Katharine Williams) adds another layer to the show throughout which draws the audience in, and allows them to be transported with Lewis to the streets of Edinburgh. The use of the books lit up on bookshelf adds not only to the romantic elements interwoven throughout the play, but to the element of suspense and atmosphere within the audience. The delivery of the monologues with the backdrop of this lighting, creates both a sea of tension and slight unrest, especially since both Reid and McVarish have the challenge of taking us on this journey throughout the 80s, with the addition of delivering the dark humour of daily threats and the impact of section 28.
Both Reid and McVarish bring Lewis and Glen (respectively) to life with professionalism, sincerity and the perfect level of self-indulgence throughout the play. They were able to convey what the writer wanted to, whilst enjoying themselves on stage. There was a clear connection between both actors which gives the audience that spark of hope for something from the beginning.
The love and care brought by both actors to their performances was poignet and kept the spirit of Lavender Menace alive, with their witty one-liners, hopeful optimism displayed by Glen (McVarish) and a different approach to oppression and hatred. They faced it with joy, love and fun - something which isn’t always highlighted with portrayals of this time period.
A gay bookshop which got its start as a stall in a gay nightclub - Fire Island - (Waterstones on Princes Street today) reprised itself again as a pop-up. Bob and Sigrid are here selling queer books in the foyer of the Lyceum Theatre. It shouldn’t make me emotional but it does. How did it take 23 years since the closing of the original ‘Lavender Menace’, to bring Bob and Sigrid back together to sell books? Simple. Life got in the way. But, it was this story, their story, which brought them back together again. To sell books. During the play about their bookshop. Where they used to sell books. Which in itself is extremely meta, but wait until you see the play...