June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – David McAlmont’s ‘girl.boy.child’ investigations of LBQT+ lives in British historic houses (2nd June)

27 May

Now this looks interesting – the last handful of tickets for this…

David McAlmont: ‘girl.boy.child’, 2nd June 2018

“Renowned singer-songwriter and historian David McAlmont delves into the closets of the historic houses of the National Trust, to explore LGBTQ histories and their contemporary significance and create a new series of site-specific performances.

“Commissioned by Professor Richard Sandell (researcher and museum practitioner at The University of Leicester) along with the National Trust, the performances are the culmination of research during the National Trust’s 2017 national public programme ‘Prejudice and Pride‘, and will shine a light on many of the houses’ LGBTQ heritage.”

The first of these is at London’s Sutton House, the tucked-away Tudor gem in the middle of Hackney that’s also recently been hosting gigs by Charles Hayward, William D. Drake and others… and that’s all the ready info available. Hmm. Should do better, press people. Other evidence, mostly gathered up from the various ‘Prejudice and Pride’ pages, suggests that the show’s based on three houses – Anglesey’s Plas Newydd, Dorset’s Kingston Lacy and Kent’s Smallhythe Place – and “the extraordinary lives” of five of those house’s past residents (Kingston Lacy’s William John Bankes, Plas Newydd’s Henry Cyril Paget and the Smallhythe lesbian ménage à trois of Edith Craig, Christopher St John and Tony Atwood). All of the stories have their share of flamboyance, sadness and determination.

Known as “the dancing marquess”, St John was a Victorian nobleman (both Earl of Uxbridge and Marquess of Anglesey) with an incandescent halo of queerness: he obsessively sank his own time and his family money into a vibrant full-life theatricality which included converting part of Plas Newydd to a showcase auditorium for his own starring roles, and which extended to his own ambiguous, highly feminised and narcissistic persona. Several heady years of leading his own theatre company round Europe in the early 1900s while neglecting an unconsummated, ill-advised marriage led to debts, divorce and an early death (although one in which he died surrounded by affection).

Living in an earlier and even less tolerant age, Bankes had to flee both Kingston Lacy and England in 1841 after being caught in the act in Green Park with a royal guardsman. Facing prosecution and a possible death sentence, he went into exile in Europe, continuing his life as explorer, Egyptologist and adventurer and amassing a huge art collection (which he sent back to Kingston Lacy, only able to visit it himself under stealth).

Craig, St John and Atwood were more fortunate – lesbians living without the threat of prosecution, they lived and worked as part of an active and productive network of playwrights, theatre people, socialists and suffragettes which also encompassed Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst. That said, their lives were not without challenge: their assumed male names, their triple union, family umbrage at their sexuality and Craig’s failed attempt at a heterosexual marriage all led to various frictions.

'girl.boy.child.' - the subjects...

Certainly there’s opportunities here for storytelling, the recreation of theatrical and period music, the fierce fellow-feeling and staunchness which comes with performative queer history, and perhaps original songs. I’m not sure exactly how it will all be passed through the McAlmont filter, but his own qualities, preoccupations and expressiveness promise what ought to be a fascinating evening.

Originally coming to notice in the mid-’90s (with the short-lived but stunning Thieves) as a dazzling singer and performer fusing classic soul with glittering gay fabulosity, David seemed set to become a LBTQ+ icon, acting out, singing out and openly discussing the exhilaration, contradictions and questions of the gay experience through his own incandescent prism. In the event, he did become one, but in a lower-key way. Despite the highs (his Top Ten pop hit ‘Yes’ with Bernard Butler, plus some superb work with Thieves, Michael Nyman, David Arnold and latterly Fingersnap and Hi-Fi Sean), caprice, prejudice and the often awkward uniqueness of his outlook means that he led a more fitful singing career. Still revered for his gorgeous and epicene voice, he’s most often found reinterpreting Prince, Bassey, Gershwin or Billie Holiday songs at the head of excellent jazz bands. Meanwhile, his mid-career digression into work as an art historian (“taken to stock up the inspiration reserves… they will never be lacking again”) has deepened his overall perspective and led to new work like this.

'girl.boy.child.' preview photo by @LawrenceRoots

‘girl.boy.child.’ preview photo by @LawrenceRoots

The National Trust presents:
David McAlmont: ‘girl.boy.child’
Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

While we’re mulling over the possibilities for the upcoming show, there are some existing peachy McAlmont moments below:





 

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