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Cucumber and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies has shown solidarity for this year’s LGBT History Month by acting as patron, along with Arts Council England, of an epic performance that aims to recreate one of Manchester’s iconic struggles for queer freedom.
Russell says, ‘The whole thing seems so brave and so right – by exploring Manchester’s rich LGBT past, we can discover who we are, right now, and how we came to be. I know Ric and Stephen are approaching the project with great vigour and huge imagination – they’re a powerhouse, getting amazing talent on board with great energy and joy. I can’t recommend this project highly enough, I think it will be a cultural milestone for the North-West, and an inspiration for all ages.’
The First National Festival of LGBT History
Schools OUT United Kingdom, the organisers of LGBT History Month in the UK, have gone all-out in their preparations this year, thanks to the contribution of Russell. Not content with leaving the planning to local authorities, libraries and arts spaces, Schools OUT is putting on a whole long weekend of events and activities in the UK’s queer capital, Manchester.
The First National Festival of LGBT History has an exciting programme of things to do, including guest appearances by Harvey Milk’s nephew Stephen Milk, and a number of talks, film screenings, performances and workshops. But top of the bill – and the thing we at Vada are most excited about – is the weekend-long theatrical happening which celebrates Britain’s own fight for queer liberation. Forget Stonewall, because Manchester had its very own clash with the police – almost 100 years before angry queers fought back in New York.
A Very Victorian Scandal
Because this is the 10th anniversary of LGBT History Month, organisers are staging a re-enactment of this homegrown watershed moment, called A Very Victorian Scandal. This series of theatrical events takes place across the city and captures an outrageous and pivotal moment in Manchester’s history of political resistance: the Hulme fancy dress ball police raid.
Here’s a brief history lesson to bring you up to scratch on this epic trial the textbooks won’t teach you about:
Back in 1880, Manchester’s most famous detective at the time, Jerome Caminada, led local police led a police in a raid on a male-only fancy dress ball in Hulme. Though the raid, and the revelations that followed, scandalised the Victorian morals of the time, the political ripples of what happened that day – which affected the lives of 47 men forever – set in motion some of the UK’s earliest LGBT rights movements.
The play kicks off on Valentine’s weekend 2015, taking part in three stages in various parts of the city.
Friday 13 February at 8pm sees performers and the public take over Via on Canal Street for an evening of cabaret and music, which will culminate with a re-enactment of the original police raid. This interactive evening of entertainment will see fully dressed ball-goers sharing their stories, and performing popular music hall numbers.
At a key moment in the evening, Victorian-style ‘police officers’ will join the fray – arresting the drag queens and can-can dancers alike.
On Saturday 14 February at 12.15pm, Manchester Central Library will be taken over by a recreation of the press frenzy that followed. While the motives of the police raid are questioned, and secrets are revealed, Detective Caminada must struggle to keep control of events – and the official story of what happened.
Finally, the trial will take place on Sunday 15 February at 1pm in The People’s History Museum. The men stand trial, the press sharpen their knives (and pencils) and the courts threaten prison to the men who bravely vow to stand mute throughout the court case.
An appalling injustice
Writers Ric Brady and Stephen M Hornby have written the three pieces, inspired by the research of LGBT historian Jeff Evans. The story, although the biggest and highest profile arrest Detective Caminada ever made, remains absent from the policeman’s published memoir, and disappeared from public consciousness soon after it occurred.
Pagelight Productions wishes to stage this important story to throw light upon the struggles faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at home in the UK.
Stephen says: ‘These men faced an appalling injustice. What happened to them was a massive attack on their freedoms. But no one really knows about it, mostly because they weren’t rich and famous.’
Ric says: ‘The men at the fancy dress raid were just ordinary people having a dance in private. It’s an honour to be able to tell their stories to a modern audience, and keep their memories alive.’
Speaking of his support of the project, Russell said: ‘It’s a delight and an honour to support these wonderful shows. Three new gay dramas about Manchester and they’re not mine. Hurrah! You lucky people.’
Eagle-eyed readers will also note that the play stars Manchester’s very own Daniel Wallace – AKA Anna Phylactic.
For more information on other events at The First National Festival of LGBT History, please visit lgbthistoryfestival.org. A Very Victorian Scandal is on Twitter as #AVVS.