Tag Archives: French Letters and Leather Cleaner

French Letters and Leather Cleaner

16 Feb

This is like a glass of bubbly; fun, light, effervescent – but with a kick.

Robbie runs a queer sex shop on Oxford Street. For many years it has proven a safe haven for the queer community. Kris, who now works there, was given shelter by Robbie, as was Santi, the drag queen.

But things have changed; developers want the site. Then one evening, Donkey Thursday (long story; at least 8 inches), a seemingly straight couple turn up at the store, and….

Laurent Auclair’s script has great one-liners, and some of the best go to Mat Oldaker as Santi and Dennis Clements as Robbie, who deliver them superbly. But the decision to present the story in real time creates challenges for both actors and audience; does change happen so fast? I assume the script has realism as its goal, but the characters’ occasional meta-theatrical awareness of the audience, and the choice to vary lighting states that in reality would be static, give my assumption a disconcerting shake.

But forget the shake, back to that kick I began with. It’s in some of the characters’ intriguing nostalgia for the past, when to be queer was to be, well… queer.

Every revolution has unintended consequences. The drive to equality can lead to homogeneity. Once accepted, do you simply blend in? Do you merely dissolve, like a sugar doll in a vast tepid ocean?

Successful revolutions always leave a smattering of revolutionaries struggling to find an identity in the new order. It’s a phenomena that invites us to question the concept of identity itself.

Self-definition by opposition is drearily binary and ultimately limiting. You risk being reduced to someone else’s shadow, if you allow your shape to be defined by their light. Or, to reverse the analogy, definition by opposition assumes a monolithic opposition, and maintaining that assumption is a whole lot easier if you don’t point your light too closely at what darkness leaves in convenient simplicity.

We live in the age of identity, where the question “Who am I?” takes precedence over the question “What is to be done?” But, I suspect, identity is one of those things that the fortunate individual ultimately freely chooses to relinquish. But that is a suspicion; what I know is that what is taken from us does untold damage. French Letters and Leather Cleaner is a valuable assertion of the queer community’s continuing need for safe spaces. The revolution ain’t over. (Are they ever?)

You gotta love a piece of theatre that invites such speculation.

Paul Gilchrist

French Letters and Leather Cleaner by Laurent Auclair

Presented by Fruit Box Theatre in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company

At Kings Cross Theatre until 24 Feb


Image by Matthew Miceli Photography