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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

GRILLS

GRILLS, a new play about the 1980s Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group, opens at Camden People’s Theatre this week. The play is an exploration of the history of the centre through a series of vignettes from its archival records. The play, co-created by Chloe Christian and Olivia Dowd, looks into the ways in which safe spaces have existed not only as political entities but also as homes for lesbians and queer women, and how the loss of those spaces effects the 


GRILLS

What was the genesis moment for the play?

We came across a video that GalDem did with Levi’s and Joy Yamusangie back in 2019 about the Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group. Growing up in Camden and living there in our adulthood as queers we were amazed we’d never heard of it so inevitably wanted to know more. The fact the archive was in Glasgow, 400 miles away, riled us. It made us question what happens when we don’t have access to our history and the queer elder mentors we crave. It made us ask, whose histories are preserved and shared? 


Can you tell me about the research that went into preparing the material?

We travelled to the Glasgow Women’s Library and delved into the archive, what was saved.


In the archive we found a whole host of flyers, posters, references to protests opposing clause 28 as well as how it was affecting everyone in the minutiae of the meeting minutes and call logs. We struggled to build a concrete idea of the interactions between the members during the moments of tension we found in the archive so the interpersonal relationships and drama are imagined.  Although we initially spoke to a few of the original members, we were asking them to remember details from 30 years ago which is, understandably, a challenge. 


It felt important then that we didn’t make a show that tried to piece together their reality. Instead we focussed on what we found in the archive and what we, as a collective of queers in present day, were interested in exploring, looking closer at and collectively imagining. For instance, some of the meeting minutes we found had been redacted which immediately piqued our interest. Why had they been? What does that tell us?


And without giving too much away, were there any moments in your research that have really stuck with you?

I think the sheer volume of work they put into creating the centre and keeping it running. There were so many different groups that accounted for a range of individual experiences. At the Centre, organisations and groups included GEMMA, the disabled lesbians support group; Zammimass & Young Zamis for radical Black lesbians; Shakti Khabar, the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Network’s newsletter; Onyx for socials and discussions among “Black Lesbians and Lesbians of Colour”; and numerous events, socials, and support groups for mothers, unwaged people, survivors, and those still closeted.  It all contributes to this real feeling of energy and activity.  Some of the most radical protests for queer rights in the 80s and 90s were thanks to lesbians. 


However, we also found examples of institutionalised racism and a constitution that flip-flopped between accepting “women born as women” and excluding “constructed females.” Seeing even a snippet of their debates around this, between redactions, photographs, and hand-scribbled notes, you have to wonder—where would these conversations be now if this centre had continued to exist? 


GRILLS

How special is it to be headlining the Camden Roar?

It’s brilliant. We’re really honoured to be headlining the festival. Camden People’s Theatre is one of the few remaining small venues who genuinely invest in emerging artists, trusting them to take risks. Of course with the centre originally being around the corner from CPT and closing it’s doors around 30 years ago, it all feels extra special. 


And how important are venues like CPT for the future of theatre in this country?

As we said, CPT is a venue that really does invest in small theatre companies and emerging artists and its programme is always full of talent and diversity. It has seeded and sprouted so many plays that have gone on to have huge journeys in theatres all over the country and a lot of talent has been developed in its walls. That kind of nurturing is incredibly important, especially as arts funding is squeezed and more and more theatres are closing its doors. Its programme embraces LGBTQ+, BIPOC, working class and immigrant stories and I think it really tries to be true to its People’s Theatre name with a programme of free workshops for the local community and cheap-ish tickets. 



What does the future look like for LGBTQ+ spaces in the UK?

Around 60% of LGBTQ+ specific venues in the city have closed since 2002 and in the past year it feels like we’re seeing venues drop like flies.


Physical spaces to gather are fundamental to human existence. It’s brilliant that social media can make LGBTQIA+ folks feel a sense of belonging but if we don’t have space to come together, talk, listen, dance, protest, be seen and feel safe, then we will not only continue to be marginalised in our personal lives, within our families, places of work and public spaces but also run the risk of polarising ourselves too. 


A lot of organisers are tired and burnt out and with London’s rental costs getting more and more unattainable it is likely that the community will be increasingly isolated and eventually forced out of the city…and the cycle of gentrification will continue.


GRILLS will be performed at the Camden People's Theatre from 4th June to 22nd  June 2024. Tickets and more information can be found at https://cptheatre.co.uk/whatson/grills. GRILLS is part of the Camden Roar, a theatre and performance festival celebrating 30 years of the Camden People’s Theatre – full programme and tickets at https://cptheatre.co.uk/festivals/camden-roar.


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