Festival brings Birmingham’s gay past to life

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The National Trust is teaming up with SHOUT, Birmingham’s Festival of Queer Culture, to bring the city’s dormant gay past to life.

The Back to Backs houses in the heart of Birmingham’s gay district will host performances from award-winning company Women & Theatre which uncover the lost histories of Birmingham’s LGBT people from the 1850s to the 1970s.

SHOUT Festival Producer, David Viney said: “We are really excited by these upcoming performances. It is vitally important that LGBT people take their place in Birmingham’s history.

“Not only will they throw light on what life was like for everyday LGBT people in the past, but also bring back to the public consciousness one of Birmingham’s most famous gay sons.”

Characters to be met in the city include Charles, a manual labourer from the 1840s, sent to All Saints Asylum for ‘committing unnatural acts’.

Visitors can meet Fred ‘Freda’ Barnes a Saltley-born butcher’s boy turned music hall megastar of the 1920s; flamboyant, disgraced and forgotten. In the 1940s can be found Annette, wife and mother, as she looks back on meeting the love of her life in wartime, inner-city Birmingham.

And finally, meet Leila, a young woman from 2011 searching an old tailor’s shop to find evidence of ‘someone like her’ in the 1970s.

The site-specific performances, featuring professional and amateur actors, will take place in the atmospheric rooms of Birmingham’s last surviving court of back to back houses.

The houses, under National Trust stewardship, tell the story of the ordinary people who helped to make Birmingham an extraordinary city throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Simon Hall from the Back to Backs adds: “We are always looking for innovative ways to engage with the very diverse audiences that surround us here in the city.

“When I was presented with the idea of this very exciting and ground breaking project, I saw it as an amazing way to engage with the vibrant gay community in our vicinity and to use the medium of theatre to present these wonderful stories with our unique houses as the backdrop.”

Janice Connolly, Artistic Director of Women & Theatre, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this flagship project. These exciting performances have grown out of research carried out by community researchers. Together they uncovered the lost histories of gay and lesbian Birmingham. We are sure this project will be a highlight of this year’s SHOUT festival.”

The project is funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund and is a project of Birmingham LGBT.

Gay Birmingham at the Back to Backs are running from 17-19 and 22-26 November.

More information can be found at SHOUT Festival website’s programme of events.

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