The Campfire Theatre’s production of Merboy, penned by Liam Sesay and directed by Scott LeCrass, took our imaginations beyond the labels put on queer people by biology and psychology to access a deeper knowing within, a knowing that humans have long been reaching mythologically.
The queer lad hero of mixed heritage, played with hypnotic passion and ever deepening absorption by Kemi Clarke, grows up in a macho household under a dominating Christian mother – who recognised the free, flirtatious and ‘wayward’ ways of her own youth in her gay son and attempted to suppress them before they could emerge – goes through stages of self-identification, moving through sexual labels until he finds the tender, feminine merboy within. The mythic queer underworld of night creatures emerges – witches who will grant your (probably foolish) wishes if you insist on ignoring their warnings – merboys looking for love but discovering so much more – sailors looking for a high tide ride night after night – hungry horny hotties who can never be satisfied. The shadows are strong but the pull of love is intoxicating, the search goes eternally on and on…
Until our Merboy discovers he loves himself more than he hates the screams of his mother, more than he fears the bargain he made with the night witch, more than he desires the fake marriages and false-lovemaking of the sailors – he loves himself and he rises into himself, wise and experienced, battered but beautiful, stunned but strong. Merboy’s inner Venus shines through his heart at this discovery and in a symbolically rich conclusion Merboy transforms into a manifestation of the Goddess of Love. Merboy is telling us who and what we really are.
I was excited to see gay mythology coming alive on stage, as it does around the campfires that I more usually am found around: I have been part of the global Radical Faerie community for 20+ years – meeting in nature, the community originated in the USA in the late 1970s, gatherings arrived in Europe in 1995 and have been taking place in the UK since 2006. The Faerie name was chosen to refer to the magical, shape-shifting fae folk of ancient tales and Radical is a call to dig for the roots of our nature as queer people – we find those roots in magic, in myth, in nature, in ritual, not in the biological sciences. We take ‘faerie names’ to signify that we are identifying as a magical being, and we co-create spaces where connection, trust, awareness, love and healing can deepen.
Many of the Faeries have pooled their talents with other creative queers to bring Queer Spirit Festival into the world (the 4th summer festival for 600 people is in August 2023 in Devon). Our motivation here is to create a festival where all parts of the LGBTQ+ rainbow tribe can celebrate our innate and eternal connection to nature, and celebrate each other. The theme for 2023 is RECLAIMING QUEER NATURE. https://queerspirit.net/
Ancient myths are full of queer symbols and tales – Zeus and Ganymede, Apollo and Hyacinth, Cybele and Attis, Dionysus and Adonis etc etc. Mermaids, Fauns, Satyrs, Sylphs – nature spirits are, by nature, very queer – and, it’s time the world knew – queer people are very natural too and by nature, spiritual. So natural in fact that some of us are born to physically embody the spirits of nature, as we once did in traditional cultures the world over, and give them expression. Christian Church Father Augustine wrote of the gender-bending, bleach-blond, flamboyant and musical priests of the Great Mother Cybele in ancient Rome: “They are the sons of the earth. The Earth is their mother.” Roman sophist Philostratus said of these queer priests: “The tie between god and man cannot be thought of in closer or stronger terms, and they are joined by a feeling not only of lifelong gratitude but of personal love, which in its expression passes over into sensual terms.” Gender queer priests were prominent in the temples and rituals of the Goddess worshipping pagan age for thousands of years until the rise of Christianity.
Queer people bring sensual spirit into the world from the subtle, invisible dimensions. That’s why we are often found in theatres. Performance on stage developed out of the ancient temples, as a way of telling the stories of the Gods. Dionysus, the feminine male god, was the patron of theatre as well as of ecstatic intoxicated union with the spirit world. The English theatre scene, which developed please note in the decades after Tudor King Henry VIII had thrown the monks out of the Roman Catholic monasteries (using the recently enacted Buggery act as one of his justifications), quickly became a gay subculture and a birthing place for other ones to emerge, such as the Molly Houses of the 18th century. Theatre is the magic of transportation and that’s the kind of magic we bring to the human family.
This camp, poetic and pretty production from the Campfire Theatre at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre, transported me to its realm very quickly and held me there, but the play doesn’t hold its punches – it takes examples of brutality, from our hero’s brothers, schoolmates and Christian mother and fiercely hammers them in, while tempering the blow with choreographed drag numbers performing 60s girl band hits. The transfixed, transported audience takes it all without issue, because we know how it feels. The gay sex scene gets a brutal portrayal too, which plays to a judgmental stereotype – but please guys let’s not slut-shame – for people like us have been executed for having fun for the past 1500 years- and after 4 decades on the London gay scene, as well as horror stories I know that there’s plenty of friendship, compassion, care, relationships and FUN also happening out there in our much maligned but crucially vital underworld, that there are entrepeneurs running venues that attempt to offer community spirit alongside the freedom to be erotic, and that our dark games can be the very things that awaken us to the light of who we really are.
Creatures of nature. Entirely magical if only we knew it. Well perhaps we do.