If it weren’t for my job, chances are I wouldn’t have gone to see Iman Qureshi’s The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs at London’s Soho Theatre. And had that been the case, I would have missed out on one of the most uplifting and thought-provoking theatrical experiences I’ve had in some time.
Writer Iman Qureshi has hit the bullseye with this inspiring ensemble piece about a women’s choir and their bid to be selected to appear on the main stage at Pride. However, that’s just the narrative hook upon which to hang themes of homophobia, biphobia, ableism, transphobia, lesbian invisibility, toxic masculinity, cultural conservatism, adultery, bereavement and even sex addiction. Seems like a lot, right? And yet the play is delivered with such a naturalistic lightness of touch that at no point do you feel you’re being lectured to or preached at. Instead, Qureshi’s characters are so well drawn and skilfully realised under the deft direction of Hannah Hauer-King, that these big themes run in seamless consort with the plot and character development, rather than being laid on with an unwieldy rainbow-coloured trowel of wokeness. Frankly, if that’s what you’re looking for, just spend a couple of hours on Twitter, where at some point you’ll find yourself commanded to “EDUCATE YOURSELF” by a 19-year-old keyboard “activist” who thinks they know it all.
It’s invidious to pick out individual performances in an ensemble piece, but special mention has to go to Kiruna Stamell, who stepped in to play Fi at the last minute because the original cast member was ill. Remember folks: this is a play with songs, so Fi didn’t only have to remember a load of text – including, as it happens, one of the play’s most pivotal sections of dialogue – she also had to perform often-complex harmonies.
Now, a quick word about the brave casting. We live in an era where the white male is almost universally the bad guy, and anyone with an identity which sits outside the mainstream majority is generally portrayed as part of a slighted minority fighting for equality in a post-colonial world of bigotry and white supremacy. In this production, Asian actor Fayez Bakhsh plays both a controlling husband and a lairy, highly offensive and abusive bloke in a pub, while the play’s most transphobic speech is delivered by a disabled lesbian.
The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs is a piece that makes you think rather than telling you what to think and yet, despite its well-crafted messages and moments of sadness, it is an inspiring and feel-good experience which I strongly recommend. The play runs until Saturday 11 July and you can get hold of tickets here.
Watch Rob Harkavy’s April 2022 interview with Mariah Louca.