GALA MAE | London, Matchstick Piehouse

Set in a bustling night club across 1950s Soho and present-day London, this new play by Annette Brook follows the lives of two mixed-race sisters (Marie-Ange Camara and Jayne Aguire). Raised in a children’s home, when one of the sisters eventually ends up in an old people’s home, the other decides to rescue her sibling, persuading her with memories of their colourful, spirited past, which book-ends the show behind a gauze.

The rest of the show runs as a flashback, centred around Gladys (Camara), a talented singer stuck propping up the failing bar. Her romance with Xin (Camille Mallet de Chauny), a mysterious sailor and boxer who claims to come from China but speaks immaculate English, brings her some joy for a short time. It is refreshing to see a historical play focusing on mixed-race relationships.

Larry (Saul Boyer) embodies 1950s Soho, a bearded, foul-mouthed transvestite with a threatening demeanour. His fraught conflict with homophobic, 17-year-old club owner Bobby (Dominic Creasey) leads to some strange and upsetting scenes.

The show’s music (Clare Spollen) features a live honky-tonk piano and many renditions of Gershwin’s “Summertime”, which Gladys sings. With the audience seated on creaky wooden chairs, on two opposite sides of the stage, we feel fully immersed in the Gala Mae Rooms ourselves, as the action takes place around us, behind us, and even above us. A gathering of lost and lonely hearts.

Gala Mae is open for tragedy until 22 March 2019.

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