London’s Southbank Centre welcomes “The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions”, Philip Venables’ third opera this week.
Premiered at the Manchester International Festival on 29 June 2023, The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions is the third opera by the tandem of English composer Philip Venables (Chester, 1979) and American writer and stage director Ted Huffman (Nueva York, 1977), who also wrote the librettos. After also being performed this summer at the Aix-en-Provence and Bregenz festivals, The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions arrives this week at London’s Southbank Centre, where it will be performed from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th.
The opera is based on the book of the same title written by Larry Mitchell and illustrated by Ned Asta. It is a cult, utopian and queer work, published by Calamus Press in 1977. A mixture of fable and manifesto, the novel draws on Mitchell’s experiences of queer communal life in the 1970s, with a particular emphasis on sexual liberation and anti-assimilationism. The text situates us in Ramrod, a decaying empire ruled by ‘the men’ (patriarchal society) under Warren-And-His-Fuckpole, while the eponimous ‘faggots’ (gay men) live communally, produce art, have sex and waite for the next revolution. Among their “friends” are the “strong women” (feminists), the “queens” (drag queens), the “women who love women” (lesbians) and the “faeries” (the Radical Faeries, a counter-cultural, anti-establishment group founded in the United States in 1979, which rejects imitation of heterosexual ways and attempted to redefine gay identity through a philosophy influenced by Native American ways of life and neo-paganism). It also features queer men, gay men who have not come out of the wardrobe or who have been assimilated by patriarchal society.
The play is a virulent and satirical reckoning with the heterosexual man, who is held responsible for virtually all of humanity’s ills: capitalism, war, environmental destruction, racism: before the bad men took over, queers lived in a happy primitive state. Then came three revolutions, in which first women were oppressed, then queers. And when heterosexual men finally came up with the idea of granting queers the same rights as themselves, such as military service and marriage, patriarchy was finally abolished in bloody battles.
The actor/singers and actor/instrumentalists bravely preach against the macho world, campaigning for tolerance, harmony, beauty and peace. Philip Venables, one of the most surprising British composers today – he won the prestigious Ivor Novello award for best stage work in 2020 for Denis & Katya, the second opera of the tandem – has composed intense music here, marked by percussion, the melancholy of instruments such as harp and cello, and influences from popular music such as dance music from the seventies and rap from the eighties.