Well that was quite the extended biopic. Enter a world of smoky waiting rooms, shabby chic speak-easy bars, bedazzled dressing rooms and a glorious inundation into queer culture up close and personal. Taking over the entirety of Backbone Youth Arts at the old East Brisbane bowls club, La Silhouette was one of the best examples of immersive theatre I have ever participated in. Created by Brissie legends Sui Ensemble, this was a roller-coaster of thrills and spills and colourful mayhem, with a brutal message of home truths revealed layer by layer like a very dangerous game of pass the parcel.
The entire affair is beautiful and chaotic, ad hoc and thrown together, not unlike a fab outfit on day three of a festival. We start in a bar. We are allowed to order a drink (already a win). We meet a fabulous queen, Christina Draguilera. It’s all very casual and personal. She sets us a task, and we are pushed off into a backstage dressing room on the first of many adventures. The audience is separated arbitrarily and led into various rooms where they are encouraged into tasks as diverse as thieving jewellery for a drag queen, painting gay rights protest signs, and creating a séance to wed two men who lived together as a couple in 20th century Australia, which was not a nice time to be a queer person in Australia. Or indeed the world. As we are reminded throughout the performance.
Sui Ensemble have created a stunning ode to some of the greatest fighters on earth. I am reminded that to be a queer person on a stage is always political. That to be other always presents risks. That a life lived uncompromised is a life lived at war. That some people see otherness as an attack, as a personal affront. That some people only know how to deal with their own internalised homophobia with violence. That history is littered with the names of the fallen.
We are ushered in and out of rooms, some of them beautifully and artfully laid out, another with literal piles of stinking rubbish, others full of the furniture that is usually spread out throughout the venue. The mood swings wildly from intimate and cheeky, to raucous and fun, to wildly ridiculous, including a feral audience interaction scene where two teams had to out-gross each other a-la-Divine-style, doing some truly revolting things on stage (bet they weren’’t expecting that from their nights entertainment!). It leads us to a very sombre peak – a re-enactment of the Orlando nightclub shooting, wherein 49 people lost their lives in the biggest mass murder of LGBTIQ+ folk in America’s violent history, just a few short years ago. A quiet death scene in a bedroom follows to remind us of how many we lost to HIV in the darkest days of the 80s. Finally, we get to make an altar, bringing all the good things in an ode to those who went before, a poignant blessing to our friends present and past.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. No that’s not right. We stand on the shoulders of mortals, who didn’t have a choice. Harris Glenn Milstead. Marsha P. Johnson. Stormé DeLarverie. Audrey Lorde. Bayard Rustin. Harvey Milk.
When we entered the building at the start of the evening, the waiting room was full of smoke, thick and impenetrable. Now that it has cleared, we can see their portraits on the wall, and remember their faces. We forget our history at our peril. The indignity of the plebiscite last year reminds us that the rights so hard-earned are unsafe and remain at risk. This is all of our history, and it burns so brightly when presented in a great big cacophony like this show. Love is love.
‘Your silence will not protect you.’ Audrey Lorde.
Images by Morgan Roberts.