96 Festival: A celebration of queerness and theatre is coming to London

96 FESTIVAL, a no holds barred extravaganza of queerness and theatre, returns to Omnibus Theatre from 20 February to 24 March 2019, after popular demand! *96 FESTIVAL was conceived in remembrance and celebration of the iconic Pride party on Clapham Common in 1996. This year the festival is being held in association with DIVA magazine.

Events and performances setting up camp in the Clapham venue span the worlds of comedy, cabaret, drag, burlesque, theatre, music, art and activism. Headlining this month-long festival is writer and director Sarah Chew’s LIPSTICK: A FAIRY TALE OF IRAN, part theatre, part drag, a timely story of rage and redemption.

Highlights of the festival
REPUBLICA and THE MORNING AFTER THE LIFE BEFORE are highlight productions that open the festival. REPUBLICA, is a fusion of anarchic theatre and dance, presented by a trio of creatives including flamenco dancer and performance artist Juan Carlos Otero. Irish theatre company, Guna Nua’s play THE MORNING AFTER THE LIFE BEFORE presents a personal tale and experience of Ireland before and after the referendum on Marriage Equality. And don’t miss extraordinary fun-filled one-nighter’s in the shape of THE COCOA BUTTER CLUB and 24/7 LIVE.

LIPSTICK: A FAIRY TALE OF IRAN,the headline show, runs through the 96 Festival from 26 Feb to 24 Mar. In 2010, just after the contested 2009 Iranian election,during riots urging the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadfrom office, writer/director Sarah Chew went to Iran on a theatre residency. Theexperience changed her life. Chew’s play is inspired bythat time, driven by the passionate desire to addressthe rise in hard borders and cultural and ethnic exclusion – from a politicaland from a personal perspective. Cabaret, workshops and post-show talks havealso been programmed as complementary events exploring the issues in the play. Seethe website for more details.

During the final week of the festival, award-winning comedian and theatre-maker Elf Lyons brings her sell out Edinburgh Fringe 2018 hit CHIFFCHAFF to London. Her one-woman show is about the economy, but not as you know it. The queen of clown and daughter of an economist is making the dismal science fun. BBC New Talent Hotlist 2017. Fringe World Best Comedy Show 2018 nominee and also British Vogue’s ’20 Names of Now’. 

Marie McCarthy is the Artistic Director of  Omnibus Theatre, shortlisted for The Stage Awards, Fringe Theatre of the Year 2019. Marie McCarthy said: “I’m delighted that 96 Festival is back by popular demand, this time with glittering events that bring neo-burlesque, poetry, comedy, drag, dance, and voguing together for one spectacular celebration of queerness and theatre. The festival is poignantly headlined by Sarah Chew’s vital play Lipstick: A Fairy Tale of Iran, a fearless story that straddles Tehran, Derry and London.”

Tell us a little bit about the “96 Festival”. When did it start and how did you come up with this idea?

96Festival is Omnibus Theatre’s month-long Queer artsfestival which celebrated its inaugural year in 2018. It’s named in remembranceof the Pride party which was held very near to our venue on Clapham Common backin 1996. The spark came from Clapham Common’s historical links to theLGBTQ+ community, plus I’m also very interested in using thearts as a platform for communication, creating a position of listening, andtheatre is a great way for doing this and it just seemed like a great idea tobring work from LGBTQ+ artists to our audiences in Clapham and now London-wide.

What shall we expect to see this year during the “96 Festival”?

The programme for 2019 reflects a progressive andcelebratory mood with a mix of theatre, cabaret, comedy,drag, burlesque, music, art and activism.

Did you expect the huge popularity of the festival and the increased popular demand for it to come back this year?

I certainly hoped that there would be a huge appetite from our audiences to showcase LGBTQ+ work. Last year’s success was encouraging and spurred me on to make 96 Festival an annual fixture in Omnibus Theatre’s Spring programme. We are really excited and looking forward to welcoming everyone into the building again this year.

What are the headlines of the festival?

I’m looking forward to seeing everything on the line-up. Programmingthe festival has been like putting together a very complicated jigsaw andsometimes it’s difficult to find all the right pieces that fit. I hope I’vemanaged to create the right cocktail of events. Sarah Chew’s Lipstick: AFairy Tale of Iran runs for four weeks, it’s our festival headliner andwill be the first time the play has been performed as a fully formed piece ofwork. It’s provocative, extremely moving, political and unexpected, and I urgeeveryone to come and see it. But with more than 14 events happening across themonth, from one-offs including The Cocoa Butter Club, Le Fil’s 24/7Live to shorter runs in the shape of The Morning After the Life Before,Republica, comedian Elf Lyons to our headliner, it promises to be a noholds barred extravaganza of theatre and queerness, there’s something foreveryone.

What is the message this year the festival wants to pass?

For the festival’s inauguralyear, it felt absolutely the right thing to do to pay homage to the 96 Prideafter-march party, which was held in Clapham Common, and for which our festivalis named after. For 2019’s the focus is shifting, I felt it was important tolook to the future, in a celebratory way, move the debate forward and askquestions about queer activism and what this means in a positive sense for usall as individuals. What can we each do? Thefestival’s primary commitment is to provide a platform where we can listen toeach other more. Understand and accept different perspectives and experiences. Onthe 19th February, we will be hosting a special opening night paneldiscussion with some very special guests, I hope as many people can come downto listen and take part in this open conversation. Plus, there will also betaster performances by some of the artists and theatre-makers taking part inthe festival.

Do you think there are enough opportunities given to queer plays and LGBTQ+ actors?

No, I don’t think there are enough opportunities – we need more platforms for different voices and also not just plays with tragic narratives, I’m also weaving in work throughout our programme during the course of the year not just within a festival context.

Juan Carlos Otero, the creative director of REPUBLICA, an energetic and sexy lament for the untold story of the Spanish Revolution, as seen through the eyes of a stripper, a flamenco dancer and a punk guitarist, told us everything we need to know.

Tellus a little bit about the new show “Republica”. What shall we expect to see andwhere did the idea come from?

REPUBLICA is a multi-disciplined showincorporating music, dance and live art delivered in a range of stylesincluding punk, flamenco, contemporary dance, strip and go-go. These elementsmight appear incongruous but they provide a constant element of surprise andhumour. The piece is bold, athletic, funny and sexy and there are also momentsthat are tense, shocking and moving. This unique mix reflects my personal andprofessional history as well as my interest in radical left wing politics andSpanish history. “Republica” is delivered in Spanish and English language andis fuelled by my desire to create work that is relevant to both cultures.

How does it feel to be one of the main characters of the play and part of the creative team behind it at the same time?

As Republica was constructed around my particular set of skills and interests, my expectation was to feel a sense of climax to my creative journey but it didn’t prove to be as easy as that – there were so many new angles to deal with, among them balancing production and performance responsibilities. Following the Spanish anarchists’ example, our creative process is based on an equal status for all artists in terms of providing ideas, material and making decisions. Lola Rueda and I have been creating queer flamenco cabaret for the last 20 years, and there is much shared language and complicity between us, but as flamenco artists we are accustomed to working with musicians who use identical or similar codes. But working with Keir Cooper on punk guitar proved extremely challenging for us and it took a good couple of years practice to learn about each other’s sensitivities and ethos. This process is ongoing as we continue to work on an electrifying synthesis of flamenco and punk. Similarly, collaborating with Emma Frankland as director and dramaturg was a huge learning curve when it came to the delivery of spoken word with which Lola and I have little experience. This was particularly difficult when the words were mine and yet I was being asked to try things that went against my instincts. But this has proved to be an extremely valuable and gratifying learning curve as it continues to promote trust between all members of the team.

What was your source of inspiration?

My multiculturalism is a constant sourceof ideas. I was born and raised in London and raised in a relatively insularSpanish community. My practice often involves transcribing stories and conceptsfrom one culture to another. I have been investigating Spanish history for thelast seven years and fell in love with accounts of the period immediatelypreceding the Civil War, in particular the early years of The Second Republic,an anarchist/ communist coalition government. Its ideology seemed particularlyextreme at a time when I began developing the piece: the left wing in Britainwas in serious decline – this was pre- Corbyn. I wanted to find a way to relatethe story of the Spanish Revolution and the disillusionment that followed to aBritish audience who might be aware of the significance of the Civil War but notnecessarily what sparked it off.

What is the message that “Republica” conveys?

“Republica” reclaims and celebrates a period of history that has been written off as a total failure when in fact its achievements are great and include freedom of speech and association, votes for women, land reform and nationalisation of a health service. The piece also reinterprets the causes of the Civil War as motivated by an anti-permissive reaction as opposed to a necessary move against the ineffectiveness of the Republic. But at its core “Republica” promotes the idea that a revolution could be lots of fun, and tries to counter the demonisation of far left philosophies such as communism, anarchism or syndiclaism.

Who are your role models and the people you admire?

My role models generally tend to be peopleI have met on my travels, who have listened, supported me and have encouragedme out of my shell, as opposed to other artists or personalities. I greatlyadmire all people with a vocation to look after others including social, careand health workers.

For “Republica” I tried to embody a character that was somewhere between Jeremy Corbyn and Madonna, whom I admire for their robust steadfastness. Pedro Almodobar has also been an inspiration through his both his body of work and also his connection to La Movida, a brief queer punk explosion in Spain following Franco’s death.

How different is the British audience compared to Spanish people?

Throughout the creative process we havebeen aware of elements in the content that were more and less relevantdepending on your cultural perspective and we play around with those culturalexpectations and clichés. The relevance of “Republica” has increased aroundevents in both countries with the rise of divisive politics, Brexit and CatalanIndependence as examples. We have written new texts to include an awareness ofthis but the company hasn’t been driven to re-contextualise the piece as wehave found that present political events have only served to unify bothaudiences in understanding its intention.

I have always been fascinated with the differences between each audience’s perception and the slight nuances of these. As an example, we have references to the programme “Faulty Towers” in the show, which we obviously directed at the British audience. But during its development we learnt that it was broadcast in Barcelona during the 80’s therefore some Spanish audiences were not at all excluded. I am also inspired to create new work by the difference in definition and value within each language and culture for concepts such as camp, queer, masculine/ feminine, feminism, experimental or political.

Do you feel there are queer theatre and LGBTQ+ actors are given equal opportunities?

No, I don’t think there are equal opportunities for all. Our intention in ‘Republica” is to unify all communities who are still struggling for equality, whilst being very aware that we live at a time when it has become easier to divide us. As a London based LGBT+ performer I feel lucky and proud to be working in a place where I am allowed to express my particular gender, identity and ideology, but I do feel like I waste much time building an extra layer of armour in preparation for a backlash. This might be slightly paranoid but I still carry the memories of my family and community wishing me back into the closet. “Republica” is my attempt to make it official and present an example of a group of highly individual people working collaboratively to support and realise each other’s needs.

Omnibus Theatre is a multi award-winning independent theatre in Clapham, South London. Shortlisted Fringe Theatre of the Year 2019 The Stage, A recipient of the Peter Brook/Royal Court Theatre Support Award 2016 and Offie winner 2018. The heart of its ambitious programme, inspired by its building’s literary heritage, lies in both classics re-imagined and contemporary storytelling. Omnibus Theatre provides a platform for new writing and interdisciplinary work, aiming to give voice to the underrepresented and challenge perceptions.

More info:


BoxOffice: Tel: 020 7498 4699, Email: boxoffice@omnibus-clapham.org


OmnibusTheatre, 1 Northside, Clapham Common, London, SW4 0QW




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