Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute

I will write about anything.  Wax lyrical, opine, muse, reminisce, waffle, bore – whatever you want to call it. It’s my comfort zone.

In this, my blog, all is in the context of Manchester – this wonderful city and my home for the last 18 years. Be it food, music, art, theatre, people, trams, bees, bars…anything.

And the term ‘review’ is not one that sits comfortably with me as I worry it suggests an arrogance, an opinion from a more informed position, a critique. With this, I never star or rate anything – I prefer to talk about it, relate my own experience, draw back to perhaps a related (tenuous) experience from my past or just celebrate basically brilliant stuff happening in Manchester – be it a beautiful bowl of pasta, a euphoria inducing glass of fizz, a dynamic and exciting theatre production put on anywhere from the biggest stage to the smallest bar or the wonderfully entertaining, annoying, comforting, infuriating experience of the daily tram commute.

This occurred yet again to me last night, whilst considering my ‘review’ of Penguin Pride.


How does one ‘review’ an event, a show, a line-up of wonderful LGBTQ+ artists, writers, and their experiences, work, words and opinions? You don’t, you just write about what you took away from it.

Having said that (to quote Larry David), a quick word about the venue. I’ve never been to anything at the grand building that is the Z-arts centre and so didn’t know what to expect (I mean I’d googled it so did slightly). Located in Hulme near the Arch Bridge, the first takeaway from Penguin Pride is the existence of this creative hub, with a focus on young people.

Getting to it, my post, *Preview* Penguin Pride comes to Manchester, provides the line-up and brief back-stories, back catalogues etc. of all the wonderful and talented authors, writers, poets…, and so I’m going to largely limit my post to the inspiration I took from each.

In fact our esteemed, warm, funny, commanding, enigmatic host,  Toby Campion, asked us at the top of the night to pledge to celebrate the talent of those to come from buying their book or even just looking them up, learning more about them and just generally acknowledging their work.

And so I (hope) to fulfil my pledge with my take-homes below (as well as purchase a couple of the books but I wouldn’t be so gauche as to play favourites and say which).

Paul Flynn – acclaimed arts journalist and columnist for Attitude. Paul read a couple of excerpts from his book, Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride.

  • He inspired me with his tale of determination from the get-go to write, the journey he took to fulfil this despite his careers teacher ‘managing expectations’. Note to careers teachers or indeed anyone – stop managing expectations. Let us expect, dream, hope, plan.
  • He made me proud as he talked about the fabric of Manchester, the location and cultural backdrop to his story, the story of the Section 28 protest march.
  • He made me cry when he told of a friend who died from AIDS and as he wished us Happy Pride, his voice-cracking in the wake of taking us through this story. He made me note down the title of his book.

Ella Otomewo – performance poet and member of Young Identity and M(.)IST Collective – a group of queer female artists working across various art-forms.

  • Ella made me smile, first and foremost. Her presence, energy and delivery is warm, lovely, open and passionate.
  • She made me realise that the introduction to each poem indeed formed part of the poem to the point where I didn’t know where one ended and the other began.  And I liked this as the context and the content were indeed one.
  • I also took a wonderful analogy, term and realisation and reassurance for a situation from my past where I often wondered how I had left matters drift for so long. Cooking in the Dark – you’re cooking, chopping, making, creating for so long, so into your activity that you don’t realise that darkness has fallen  It’s happened so gradually that you’re in it and you’ve become accustomed to it and it’s not like you’ve ‘cut or burnt’ yourself so, it’s…fine.

Kirsty Logan – a Glasgow-based writer and whose short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, was awarded the Polari First Book Prize.

  • Kirsty made me laugh with stories of literal ‘heartbreak’ – to continue her analogy of each relationship equating to a rented heart which become damaged and affected – or did the condition of the heart at the point of rental dictate the relationship? And can I call the heartbreak literal if the heartbreak is indeed still an analogy. And so all these questions prove two things; either I am being incredibly dense or Kirsty’s writing, themes and musings are layered with such sophistication and thought-provoking imagery that it is testament to this that I am still  pondering now.
  • I took an admiration as to how she took a bad experience from her life, ran with it and four books later is here making us laugh on stage in a frankly fabulous shimmery dress.
  • I took stock of Kirsty’s incredible imagination and talent for fantasy and the blurred lines between this and reality – from mermaids to, yes, period sex
  • Lastly I took the phrase ‘circus boat’ home with me, and a wish to sail on one.

Andrew McMillan – an award-winning Yorkshire poet and commanding presence on stage. Andrew read to us from his new collection, Playtime, which ‘explores the different ways we grow into our sexual selves and our adult identifies’.

  • I took from Andrew, and forgive me, visually, at first. I took in his pleasing slogan t-shirt ‘Bibliosexual’. The good old urban dictionary gives the definition as,

a person, who is so deeply enthralled with books they discuss it with a level of passion that most people reserve for sex

Now I can’t/won’t comment on whether levels reached that dizzy height in the theatre last night. But I will comment that I became uncharacteristically captivated by the phallic shadow cast onto the otherwise plain t-shirt by the mic. Apt, and probably incredibly annoying of me, given how Andrew shared one person’s description of his work ‘penis poems’.

  • I took not only words but music from Andrew’s rhythmic, captivating and lilting delivery of the text he’d written, the feelings he’d felt, the observations he’d made…
  • I also took notice of the nagging voice forever inside me telling me to finally apply for that post-grad writing course, learning that Andrew is an example of  the calibre of tutors at MMU, guiding, inspiring and evoking others to lay bare their talents and indeed soul.
  • I took down the name of his book.

Kate O’Donnell – an award-winning transgender activist and artistic director brought a touch of the theatrical to proceedings. In a total homage to 1930s song and dance, she crossed the stage in sartorial style, with a musical interlude to pay both passionate and comical tribute to her transgender story.

  • I took from Kate the stark reminder that it’s still only a very short time ago that the transgender community weren’t recognised/’tolerated’/understand/represented/accurately termed. Indeed, Eddie Izzard in his recent autobiography only recently publicly termed himself transgender (although having identified years ago ), as the only ‘leveller’ term he felt able to use was transvestite (albeit, an action one).
  • I then took heart at how after so long, the terms transgender is recognised if not yet fully understood by more and more of our population. I, as a ‘straight woman’, understand that I will always be slightly lagging in my knowledge of issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. Because, of course, whilst identification will lead, the rest of us can but catch up with education, awareness, compassion and recognition.
  • Leading into my final lesson from Kate – I realised where I was with my own understanding and education. I listened as it was flagged that Eddie Redmayne cast as a transgender character is still inherently wrong. But aren’t we achieving something that this film is even being made, I wondered. And how wide is the pool of transgender actors anyway, from which this role could be filled? And then the penny dropped that the very fact that I was wondering this, highlighted just how far we’ve got to go. Thank you Kate.

And finally, I return to our very wonderful host for the evening and act in his own right.

Toby Campion – the award-winning poet, performer, playwright and bringer togetherer of the audience.

His togethering included urging us all to spend 35 seconds getting to know one person sat near us. My predictable social-anxiety induced horror at this prospect was soon replaced by the horror of rejection when I realised that those to the front side and back of me had already coupled up and were in mid-convo. Christ I was like someone on Love Island, if I watched that and knew what it was (of course I did/I do).

Toby also made the event a safe-space, urging us to recognise any feelings of discomfort induced by ‘triggers’ which may lie in the subject matter.

  • He made me laugh ‘out loud’ whilst reading aloud words scribbled down in a drunken haze, with the intention that they would later serve to assist with the writing of a piece of prose, describing a significant meeting in McDonalds with ‘Marcus’, a brief object of  lust and fixation.
  • He made me cry with his words in a piece called Haircut. His parents; his Dad’s hair, his mother’s act, an incredibly moving and real reading of an act and indeed a meaning of what love is and can be.
  • He also brought us back to a state of calm and still, together as an audience, encouraging us to take in a quick in and out deep breath, to centre us back to a state of relaxation when having been taken to a place of heightened emotion by a passage of writing or prose.

And it is testament to all on stage last night that this brief exercise in calm was a very required and welcome addition to the show.

With apologies for the lengthy erm length of this post (again testament to the experience), and in the words of Paul Flynn,

Happy Pride!

Read more about the Albert Kennedy Trust

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