On the occasion of How does it feel?, a show of LGBTQ+ new writing, the Corpus Playroom was decorated with rainbow flags all around the stage. This true atmosphere of togetherness and solidarity was omnipresent in this show. Whilst not being able to speak for everyone, I personally felt completely at home and at peace in this environment.

Though the show consisted of a series of loosely linked sketches, it was obvious that the actors and crew involved had worked on the show together as a team. These sketches were united under an umbrella of lighthearted comedy, of addressing stereotypes, of exploring situations that were familiar. What was wonderful though, is the incredible honesty with which some of these performers told their story.

It is worth highlighting Thomas Whittaker’s poignant voicing of their experiences leading up to their identifying as a non-binary person. Their honesty and raw retelling of past emotions, of how it used to feel and perhaps still does, allowed for audience members with all backgrounds to at least have a glimpse into this incredibly talented performer’s life, whilst the emotional hardship surely cannot be fully imagined. Similarly enlightening was Thea Grønhaug’s sharing oft their experience as an autistic and asexual person. The performers of How does it feel? managed to voice honest, personal experiences in a way that was accessible to all audience members, no matter their background.

What can be taken away from this production is the fact that in a way all of us need to ‘come out’. 

How does it feel? highlighted the importance of sharing one’s story: first performer Cerian Craske came onto the stage with the excuse of introducing the show, asking the audience to switch off their phones; they were disguised as a steward: “I need an excuse to tell my story.” The opportunity to tell one’s story might not always present itself, expressing ourselves is, however, all the more crucial. The idea of ‘coming out’ might have a negative undertone to it, since it implies that the person in question is in some way abnormal, queer. What can be taken away from this production is the fact that in a way all of us need to ‘come out’. Be it sexuality, gender, illness, or anything else, we are pushed by the absolute necessity to express ourselves.

The authenticity with which the performers told their story, the hardships and personal accounts had a strength very rarely found in Cambridge theatre. All sketches were grounded in the Cambridge world, including a scene retelling Lord Byron’s story as a a Trinity undergrad, thus giving a voice to those queer people who did not have the opportunity to express themselves freely at the time they were alive. Whilst the personal monologues were much more powerful, the sketch (featuring Camilla Aaltonen) was nonetheless a a fresh take on its subject matter.

The audience too was given a space to express themselves. The production team was not afraid to open up a dialogue with the audience around the topic of queer role models and fictional characters. Turning the lights off, they created an atmosphere of trust and understanding were everyone and anyone could speak up. Constantly balancing on the edge between a more standard theatre performance (where performers and audience members are usually considered as separate), and an open debate where boundaries between spectator and speaker are completely erased, How Does It Feel? is a fluid inbetween.

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Co-directors Molly O’Gorman and Charlie Bentley-Astor made the brave decision of keeping elements of traditional theatre performance but giving a voice to spectators, thus making How Does It Feel?, in its structure as much as its subject, a queer production. The work of the co-directors (as well as co-creators Shameera Lin and Jamie Hancock) also deserve praise for their ability to tie together the eclectic mix of sketches into a well-structure whole; transitions from one scene to another couldn’t have been smoother. Changes in lighting, clever use of the black walls of the Corpus Playroom as blackboards in one of the sketches around gender-queerness linked to the story of Tiresias, as well as the sound tech all added to the show.

One might expect the sentimental nature of such a show to make it cheesy, somehow How Does It Feel? managed to find a balance between positivity and poignancy such that it never became sickly. Given the topic of the show, one could have imagined an ending calling out a society that still does not do enough to stand up for equality. The team of How Does It Feel? made the decision to end on a positive note. All performers stood together, hand in hand, symbolising their walking together in a pride parade, thanking friends and family for their support. Personally, leaving the show with my eyes wet with tears of frustration and anger sparked by the poignant personal stories of some of the performers, as well as tears of hope inspired by the positive note on which the show ended: it is safe to say that How Does It Feel? was an absolute success.

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