Queer Contact 2016, highlights: Life’s a drag

Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

Manchester’s annual festival of LGBT theatre, music, cabaret and more, is back – here are our highlights.

Macho cowboys, a polysexual Saint, mediations on happiness and hook-up apps, and a reimagined transgender Jesus in a church; Queer Contact, Manchester’s excellent annual reflection of the city’s LGBT arts and culture scene, returns 4-14 February.

Over the course of 11 days, a programme of theatre, music, cabaret, spoken word, comedy and debates take place across multiple venues, including a performance staged in a church in Victoria Park. There are collaborations with HOME, the RNCM and The Royal Exchange, and though (weep) there is no infamous Queer Contact Vogue Ball this year, there are opportunities for dancing (Queer Revue) and debauchery (Mother’s Ruin).

Four exhibitions run throughout the festival, while sexuality and religion are explored in Jamie Fletcher and Company’s Dancing Bear, and For The Love of Gospel from Our Lady J (who is both Dolly Parton-endorsed and one of the writers behind Golden Globe Award-winning US series Transparent) So, where to begin? We’ve rounded up our top Queer Contact festival picks to get you started.

STUD

In solo show STUD, Eilidh MacAskill explores manly stereotypes and penis envy through a variety of characters. There’s a patriarchal DIY expert, and a macho cowboy – that smouldering western symbol of simultaneous hyper-masculinity and pent-up homoerotic tension – and particularly silly chin-stroking Freud. 4-6 February, 9.30pm, tickets £13 / £7 Conc.

A Place Called Happiness

What’s so good about happiness, anyway? Debs Gatenby spent 12 months responding to society’s obsession with happiness by trying to discover the secret of attaining it. The whole journey just made her feel worse. This funny, uplifting show reflects on a universal theme that plagues us all. 10 February, 8pm, tickets £13 / £7 Conc.

Men, Women And The Rest of Us

22 years since it was first published, Kate Bornstein’s groundbreaking book Gender Outlaw remains a go-to text on the transgender experience. Through spoken word and performance, Bornstein, who identifies as neither male nor female, unpicks issues of identity within a world that wants us to choose a side. In addition to the performance, Bornstein’s My Gender Workshop is “an intimate daylong gender odyssey.” 5 February, 8pm, tickets £15 / £10 Conc.

The Daily Grind

Bringing cruising and confiding into a public space, Laurie Brown’s The Daily Grind is a show about that tricky intersection between love, sex and the internet. How do the ways in which we present ourselves online, or via dating apps, affect our mental health? This is a show for anybody who has veered from loneliness to ecstasy and back again whist scrolling Grindr or Tinder. 9-11 February, 9.30pm, tickets £11 / £6 Conc.

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

“When you think about Jesus and the 12 apostles, statistically it’s very likely that at least one of them was LGBT,” wrote theatre critic for The Guardian Lyn Gardner (who’s also written a feature on Manchester’s theatre scene for us) after watching The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven at Edinburgh two years ago. Trans playwright, poet and performer Jo Clifford reimagines stories from the New Testament with St Chrysostom’s Church as the backdrop; in the process she rewrites the world as a more tolerant place in this uplifting show presented in collaboration with The Royal Exchange. St Chrysostom’s Church, 14 February, 3pm & 8pm, tickets £13 / £7 Conc.

Life’s a Drag

After a year-long project of delving into the history of drag culture in Manchester, artist Jez Dolan and writer Chris Hoyle present their resulting performance, featuring oral histories and a tonne of sequins. 4-6 February, 7pm, tickets £11 / £6 Conc.

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