Theatre: The View Upstairs, Soho Theatre

BY MAYA CHAVVAKULA

Max Vernon’s over the top production tells the story of the tragic fire, in 1973, at a New Orleans gay nightclub that killed 32 people.

The musical starts with Wes, a millennial “influencer” in 2019 who buys a building in New Orleans to start his own business.

Minutes after signing his lease, he finds himself transported to 1973 when the building was a bar and the secret hub of the local queer community.

He assumes he is having a bad reaction to the drugs he took but decides to go along with it.

He proceeds to learn about the backgrounds of each of the members of the community and the consequences of being gay in the 1970s.

The production wants to be a homage to the predecessors of the LGBTQ community who made countless sacrifices in their quest for equal rights, but does not quite succeed.

There are, what feels like, countless songs on the sense of community and accepting yourself.

If the whole point of the piece was to showcase the importance of sticking together and accepting people for who they are then what is the purpose of having a character such as Dale?

Dale is mistreated by the community for being a prostitute and looked down on.

There is also an instance when a homophobic police officer visits the bar and everyone tries their hardest to make it appear like any other public house.

Wes, astonished by their behaviour, tries to fight back but is later chided for being out of touch and not understanding their situation.

Yet in another instance a senior member of the community tries to belittle one of its members for lying to his wife about who he really is.

He is even given an ultimatum in the form of “are you in the lifestyle or not”.

For a play that tries to constantly reiterate that people should be allowed to be whoever they want to be, it paints a very rigid picture of what the gay community looks like – extremely camp.

The fire that inspired this production is only addressed for about two minutes at the very end of the play and the gravity of the tragedy was subverted by Wes’ monologue on the Donald Trump and his right-wing policies.

Wes’ constant reference to his internet celebrity status gets tiring and the director’s attempt to make a poignant statement on today’s millennial culture is undercut by the fact that ultimately Wes does what he originally set out to despite his newfound priorities.

This musical about the LGBTQ lifestyle in the early 1970s plays to every queer stereotype there is.

The songs were performed gleefully and there are bits in the play that are funny but put together the musical lacks a flow.

The idea behind the production is commendable but the director tried to do too many things at once and as a result failed to do justice to the core concept.

The View UpStairs by Max Vernon. At the Soho Theatre,
21 Dean St, Soho, until August 24. box1@sohotheatre.com.
Box Office 020 7478 0100.

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