Theatre review: Queer Contact 2023

The joyous and wonderful Queer Contact festival hit Manchester this February – celebrating Contact’s 50th year, no less. Ya boi was lucky and sexy enough to see a handful of the best – that’s most hilarious, most sensual, most beautiful – shows blessing our wonderful city.

The Cocoa Butter Club

My week of Queer Contact kicked off with The Cocoa Butter Club – an award-winning performance company that showcases and celebrates performers of colour. The fabulous Yshee Black hosted, bringing the old school garage fun, and had everyone out of their seats dancing, including the security guards!

I had my mind thoroughly blown by a lady with hula hoops – my eyes couldn’t keep up and I loved it! There was pole dancing, burlesque, lip synching, it gave me my whole life!

Gallifrey Cabaret

The next show I saw was the queer Doctor Who-themed Gallifrey Cabaret, created by my good friend Reece and his partner and drag artist, Carrot. Those two as The Doctor and Donna Noble was all I’ve ever needed and wanted. Would more Catherine Tate really ever be a bad thing? I think not!

As a long time fan of both the Whoniverse and drag ridiculousness, this show was everything! Reece absolutely smashed it as The Doctor, holding and engaging a sold-out audience in his palm – which was a treat to see – while introducing Carrot’s drag number and the iconic Bailey Jaye Mills serving Weeping Angel realness, amongst other captivating and hilarious acts. I can’t rave enough about this show!

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The Bitten Peach Presents Peach Chutney

Saturday brought The Bitten Peach Presents Peach Chutney. I was transported on a flight to paradise by this celebration of South Asian gender-diverse excellence in gorgeous fashion.

Our chief flight attendant for the evening was the brilliantly names Mahatma Kandi, who gave one of the best numbers I’ve ever seen: an invisible piano rendition of “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton, which was stellar!

The South Asian rep was joyous and amazing to see, and we took a moment of thought for the victims of the earthquake tragedy in Turkey. Peach Chutney was really something special and I know it will be something I’ll jump at having the opportunity to see again, given the chance.

Fisayo Akinade

On the Sunday, star of screen and stage Fisayo Akinade shared 50 Things That Shaped Me, in which he talked about the experiences that shaped him into who he is today.

In a more intimate setting, Fisayo and Contact Artistic Director and CEO Keisha Thompson chatted about how Final Fantasy 7, the Animorphs books and Philip Seymour Hoffman (plus 47 other things, of course) made them who they are.

The talk given was fun, endearing and inclusive, and with games, prizes and a lovely person dressed as a gladiator to embellish the experience, a great and really comfy time was had by all in attendance. We need more of this in the theatre world, please!

Ginny Lemon and Sister Sister

The last show I caught at Contact 2023 was RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 2 stars Ginny Lemon and Sister Sister’s You Keep Me Hangin’ On tour. A wild, raunchy, debaucherously (is that word? It is now!) funny show put on by two of the nation’s favourite drag artists – known for their unique brand of hilarity, wit and a bit of filth.

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My highlights were Sister Sister’s number about stealing a car and running a bunch of people over by accident on the way home for Christmas, and Ginny’s stunningly beautiful live vocal number of Kate Bush’s epic camp classic, “Wuthering Heights”.

They both had me rolling in my seat, which was no easy feat at the time because I was very hungover and my jeans were way too tight for gymnastics.

This awesome twosome pulled me up and brought me just as much joy as Ginny seemed to be having when pelted by the audience with about 30 bags of Wotsits.

Contact 2023 was a perfect example of queer brilliance and the bringing together of artists from different backgrounds and cultures to make a delicious and exciting pot luck buffet of a festival. I can’t wait for next year!

And one more…

While I got to check out the shows above, our Editor-in-Chief Adam Lowe also headed down to see Lady Bushra: Robbed. Here’s what he said:

Lady Bushra: Robbed

It was a delight to see Lady Bushra’s first show in a theatre. Contact has long held a reputation for giving artists their first outing on stage (I, too, did my first solo show at Queer Contact back in 2014), and it was great to see Lady B get her turn in the spotlight.

Her show featured a laundry list of jobs she had taken and failed to keep – from accidentally dealing drugs while working the gig economy, to intentionally dealing drugs for big pharma – as the world’s preeminent “South Asian Karen” (her words, girl, not mine!) bemoaned all the times she’d been robbed.

Highlights included a stint at the ridiculous Bradford Airways (which only circles around over the city before landing again), and a job working for her uncle’s fast food outlet which gave her plenty of material to work with.

Occasionally, the jokes became either too daft to work, or were done one too many times (how many dead baby and incest jokes can one queen fit in? Dozens, apparently), but Lady Bushra knew how to work the audience and her charisma held it all together.

With fabulous outfits, silly lip syncs and buckets of personality, Lady Bushra brings something new and vital to British drag. And who doesn’t want to hear more about her adventures in that “exotic land of Bradford”? As someone from Leeds, the local jokes were some of the very best.

I’d be very keen to see where Lady Bushra goes next. With the right support and investment from our arts venues, she’ll go very far indeed. Let’s hope Contact continues to build their relationship with her, and that we get to see more of her work onstage soon.