The narrative follows two shop assistants at the bookshop - Glen and Lewis - who are packing up the books from Lavender Menace in the run up to its fifth birthday, just before it is set to shut up shop, move home and change name.
As they pack, Lewis runs through a planned homage with Glen that he wants to perform as a present/farewell to the owners of the shop, Bob Orr and Sigrid Neilson. The playful homage explores the history and significance of the Lavender Menace and gay culture in Edinburgh in the 1980s, and does so by delving into the personal relationship and history between Glen and Lewis as well.
If that all sounds a little bit serious or mundane, it really couldn’t be less so.
This is one of the most entertaining plays we’ve seen in some time. Matthew McVarish and Pierce Reid are sensational as Glen and Lewis. The narrative dictates that, because of the manner in which they talk us through the history of the shop (through Lewis’ homage), they must play a range of characters each, however briefly. And through quick voice changes, exaggerated movements or even occasionally through dance, they manage to succeed in doing this not only clearly and naturally but often with great comic effect.
The set is a selection of creatively designed bookcases with glowing books that darken one-by-one as the play goes on and more books are packed away. The soundtrack meanwhile is all played diegetically through a cassette player, and is inspired largely by the character’s memories from ‘Fire Island’, a nightclub which was formerly on Princes Street, and in the cloakroom of which the Lavender Menace was originally formed (the club was later bought over by a Waterstones, which still stands on Princes Street now).
Long story short, there was a lot of energy around the performance and the soundtrack. Sometimes it was used for comedic effect, as with the perhaps predictable inclusion of ‘It’s Raining Men’ or ‘YMCA’, or sometimes just to ramp up the mood for a while, as with Jimmy Somerville’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’.
The writing from James Ley really is intelligent, informed and witty. The narrative does so well to time travel so convincingly and explore so much - from chilling legal acts, and how Section 28, a piece of criminalising legislation in the Thatcher era, threatened so many, to light-hearted former flings and police interaction at the time - while never feeling forced or breaking away from the personal connection between Glen and Lewis that drives the play.
The intricacies of the bookshop, and the effect it had for those right at the hub of the LGBT community is brilliantly conveyed by the two protagonists, while well-placed asides at the start and end of each half suggest at the impact the bookshop had on those who were not out or comfortable with their sexuality in the 1980s.
If it were not for that 'guest' moment, we wouldn’t have hesitated in giving full marks to this original, entertaining, euphoric production at The Lyceum. It’s a combination of great writing, two fantastic actors and an incredibly playful soundtrack and script. And if nothing else, the history in the play, and particularly as Edinburgh residents, the local history of the play, is just incredibly interesting.
All round it’s a great night out, and it's a play that will probably send you on a night out after as well.
'Love Song to Lavender Menace' runs from 12 October to 21 October at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh