“I don’t believe the word love has ever meant the same thing twice.” The stars shine bright and so do our desires. Navigating a 17th-century opera house, 1936 Worcester, San Fernando Valley, 1979 and the Moon 2223, Forward Arena present their examination of queer history in Callisto: A Queer Epic. After a critically acclaimed, sold out run at the Edinburgh Fringe, the production lands at the Arcola for a second time.
Whilst interesting to watch, it’s not exactly epic. What it is is a couple of love stories that have been effectively weaved together dramaturgically. Poignantly sweet, it’s not political, and I sense caution in Thomas Bailey’s direction; it’s almost as if he doesn’t want to put too much queerness on stage, in fear of a potential adverse reaction.
And for that reason, true diversity of the queer spectrum isn’t represented. I question where the trans narrative is; the non-binary story? Presenting ‘queer’ as simply lesbian and gay is problematic to say the least, especially when there are ten other sexual identities (at the moment), on the LGBTQ+ alphabet – all of which are still significantly underrepresented.
However, perhaps there’s only so much of this that mainstream theatre audiences can handle at the moment, meaning Bailey could have pitched it at the right level; curating a show that entertains, provokes slightly, but doesn’t offend. It is a shame that this caution causes the production to have a vanilla feel to it.
One aspect that does contain lots of flavour is the performances. Each actor holds their own on stage, and manages to multi-role with great distinction. There’s a great contrast in each character; from a 1680’s opera star to Alan Turing, to an A.I. companion, it’s a lovely touch to see how different eras viewed/could view same-sex interactions.
Matthew Swithinbank’s lighting design is nothing short of excellent. Long beams hang over the audience’s head, glowing in many different bright colours. Each colour means something different: love, laughter, trust, pain, they are all present. It’s a simple touch, but Swithinbank’s ability to tell a story visually through LFX is very impressive.
One thing to be admired in this production is that the queerness is never over-sexualised – a trap some queer theatre makers often fall into. Hal Coase has delicately crafted the text in a way that pays respect to all of the narratives of the past.
This production won’t necessarily educate its audience, but that perhaps isn’t the point. What it will do however is entertain. And the combination of tactful writing, electric design and fine performances make Callisto: A Queer Epic a very enjoyable viewing experience. 3.5/5
Callisto: A Queer Epic is currently showing until Saturday 23rd December 2017 at the Arcola Theatre. For more information on the production, visit here…