By Rosie Niven
When a show starts with, ‘give me some noise, it’s Friday and I’m gay’ it’s pretty clear that you’re in for a wild ride. When the gorgeous Cleo steps out from behind the curtain in a Zara powersuit, it gets even better. So begins a brilliant 60 minute journey with Cleo in her first solo comedy show - and within 5 minutes of the work beginning, I’m already hoping there’s a second.
Queerly Beloved is part stand-up routine, part-therapy session. The first activity we’re invited into is a self-affirmation exercise, where we all take deep breaths and think about all the negative thoughts swimming around in our head, then exhale with the words ‘fuck off’. We’re then invited to share with the group something great that happened to us today, whether it’s getting a promotion or just getting out of bed, and the audience delights in this chance to break away from the standard audience expectation of responding only with laughter. It’s easy to share with a performer that is so warm, welcoming and relatable.
The rest of Queerly Beloved follows Cleo’s life, of growing up in England as the only non-white person in the entire school, to coming to terms with her femininity, to learning to love herself as the brilliant queer artist she is. She shares with the audience anecdotes about the mixed race experience and examines the institutionalised racism she dealt with from an early age. It’s an exercise in comedy that seeks to educate rather than tear down, and it’s refreshing to see comedy stepping away from punching down. There are moments where there is no laughter, but it doesn’t matter, because we’re completely invested in Cleo’s journey to embracing her own identity. Queerly Beloved allows us to reflect on our own battles with fitting in, and what exactly constitutes normal: Cleo’s journey is filled with fears of standing out, of being ‘othered’, and in this safe space that Cleo has created we can all resonate with the universal experience of wanting to be ‘normal’. In Cleo’s words, “whether you’re LGBTI+ or not, everyone fears being ‘othered’, different or abnormal”, and in her work she reminds us that we’re all a little bit queer, aren’t we? Who is to say that queerness isn’t beautiful?
However, when we laugh, we really get to laugh - one of the highlights in this performance is a documentary-style bit about the characters you find inside a straight bar, which sees Cleo impersonating problematic men and attempting to do the worm. It’s lighthearted, fun, and for those of us who aren’t straight men but have been to those bars, painfully relatable.
Queerly Beloved is a delight from start to finish. You’ll go in expecting to laugh and come out with a stronger sense of self (and at Sydney Fringe prices, it’s much cheaper than therapy). There’s only one more night to catch this show at the Factory Theatre, and I sincerely hope you do. I can’t wait to see what Cleo has in store for us next.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.